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Australia shares end lower after NAB earnings; New Zealand up

[BENGALURU] Australian shares closed marginally lower on Thursday as a rally in the materials sector due to a rise in metals prices was offset by losses in financial stocks after National Australia Bank (NAB) flagged restructuring charges.

The S&P/ASX 200 index, which touched a two-and-a-half year high in early trade, reversed gains to close down 0.1 per cent or 6.066 points at 5,931.7. The benchmark had risen 0.49 per cent to a near six-month high on Wednesday.

Shares of NAB, Australia's largest business lender, ended 2.8 per cent down after the company said it would incur restructuring charges of A$500 million (S$524.1 million) to A$800 million in the first half of fiscal 2018, and a spike in expenses of between 5 per cent and 8 per cent over the year.

The bank added it would shed a net 4,000 jobs in the next three years, representing about 12 per cent of its current workforce despite reporting a record annual cash profit.

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The Australian financial index fell 0.8 per cent and accounted for most of the losses on the benchmark index.

Conversely, the Australian Metals and Mining index rose 1.9 per cent to a more than three-year high supported by the rise in iron ore futures and surge in nickel prices.

Heavyweight Rio Tinto Ltd closed at an over six-year high, while its rival, BHP Billiton Ltd closed at a seven-week high.

Nickel miners Independence Group NL and Western Areas Ltd rose 3.6 per cent and 3.8 per cent, respectively.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.4 per cent or 29.25 points to finish the session at 8,083.06, after posting its biggest drop since March the previous day.

Consumer staples led the index's upward charge, with a2 Milk Company Ltd accounting for most of the gains, while Synlait Milk Ltd rose 3.9 per cent.