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Australia shares end little changed despite weak banks, property; NZ slips

[BENGALURU] Australian shares finished nearly flat on Friday, as gains in energy stocks were offset by losses in banks and the real estate sector.

Investors were cautious, however, ahead of speeches later in the day by the heads of the US and European central banks in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Their remarks will be closely watched for any hints on the path of monetary policy.

Declines on Wall Street overnight put the Australian market on the backfoot early, though it clawed back most losses by the close.

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The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index ended down 0.03 per cent, or 1.58 points, at 5,743.90. For the week, it dipped 0.1 per cent.

Real estate stocks stumbled, with Scentre Group falling 3.1 per cent to close at its lowest in nearly two years.

Sellers also targeted financials.

Westpac Banking, Australia's No 2 bank by assets, was the biggest drag on the index, finishing 1.1 per cent down. Australia and New Zealand Banking and National Australia Bank ended 0.5 per cent and 0.4 per cent lower, respectively.

But energy stocks firmed, with the Australian energy index rising 1.3 per cent, extending its gains for the week to nearly 4 per cent.

Shares of Australia's second-largest independent oil and gas producer Santos Ltd closed up 3.7 per cent, its highest in over three months.

Australia's biggest airline Qantas Airways Ltd closed 3.8 per cent up after reporting its second-highest annual profit.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 10.60 points, or 0.14 per cent, to 7,857.81. The index fell 0.2 per cent for the week.

Gains in consumer staples were off-set by losses in the healthcare sector.

Dairy firm a2 Milk Company extended its rise to record highs, finishing up 4.9 per cent.

Retirement village operator Ryman Healthcare ended the session 1.7 per cent lower.