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Australia: Shares end flat as miners, banks weigh; NZ at record high

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares closed little changed on Wednesday as gains in healthcare and energy stocks offset weakness in financials and miners.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose by 4.1 points to 6,851.4. The benchmark closed 0.04 per cent lower on Tuesday.

Shares of bluechip Oil Search Ltd jumped 3.3 per cent to a near four-month peak after the company said an assessment showed there were higher chances of drilling more oil from its Pikka project in Alaska than was initially expected.

The move pushed the wider energy index 0.8 per cent higher, even as oil prices lost ground.

Healthcare stocks advanced 0.9 per cent to a record close, with CSL Ltd and Cochlear Ltd rising 0.8 per cent and 1.9 per cent, respectively.

Gold miner Northern Star Resources finished 3.3 per cent higher after it entered a deal on Tuesday to buy half of a joint venture that owns Super Pit, the biggest open pit gold mine in Australia.

Some optimism from overnight strength on Wall Street also trickled through after the major US stock indices held near record highs as strong housing and manufacturing data bolstered expectations of an improvement in global growth.

"US data is showing signs of more stability in the global growth story, so there is a little bit more optimism around that," James Tao, market analyst at CommSec said.

"The downside today is the performance of the financials. The banks, the 'big four' in particular, have begun falling from the broader market," Mr Tao added.

Two of the country's biggest lenders, Westpac Banking Corp and National Australia Bank Ltd (NAB), lost 0.6 per cent and 0.7 per cent, respectively.

In the latest development to a series of regulatory scandals afflicting the banking industry, Westpac was hit with a class action related to disclosure issues even as it stands accused of 23 million breaches of anti-money laundering laws.

Australia's No 3 lender NAB said it did not have cash set aside to settle a lawsuit accusing it of charging customers fees for no service.

Mining behemoths BHP Group and Rio Tinto slipped 0.4 per cent and 1 per cent, respectively, after gaining for six out of the last seven sessions. Iron ore and copper prices were lower on Wednesday.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index advanced 0.6 per cent, or 68.72 points, to a record close of 11,329.56.

Heartland Group Holdings Ltd was the biggest gainer and advanced 3.5 per cent to its highest close in more than one year.

REUTERS