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Australia: Shares end lower as markets await clues on trade talks; NZ dips


[BENGALURU] Australian shares closed weaker on Monday, with gold and healthcare sectors leading losses, as investors maintained a cautious stance amid a lack of concrete detail in the Sino-US trade negotiations.

The S&P/ASX 200 index inched 0.4 per cent lower to 6,766.80 at the close of trade. The benchmark closed 0.9 per cent firmer on Friday.

"Despite the White House and Beijing engaging in constructive talks, what is patently clear is a lack of conviction about both sides arriving at a mutually agreeable resolution," analysts at Mizuho Bank said in a note to clients.

Doubts about the trade talks emerged early last week, although optimism gradually returned as US officials sounded more positive. Neither side, however, provided concrete details about headway in their trade talks.

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White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Thursday that the United States and China were close to a trade agreement, citing what he called as very "constructive" talks with Beijing, which helped lift global equities on Friday.

"Being long on hope and short on conviction is risk associated with these markets," the Mizuho note said.

The Australian market is also awaiting minutes from the central bank, due on Tuesday, for any signs of a pause to its rate reduction. The central bank decided to keep its policy interest rate unchanged in November, but has indicated it is open to further easing.

Dented by a decline in bullion prices, gold-related stocks ended the day 1.6 per cent lower, with OceanaGold Corp hitting its lowest close in more than four months. Saracen Mineral Holdings Ltd closed at its lowest in a week after the gold miner offered to buy Canadian-listed Barrick Gold Corp's 50 per cent stake in the Super Pit gold mine in Western Australia for US$750 million.

Meanwhile, healthcare stocks retreated after two sessions of strong gains to close about 1 per cent weaker, dragged lower by losses in index heavyweight CSL Ltd.

Financial stocks shed previous session's gains, with the "Big Four" lenders ending in negative territory.

National Australia Bank, the country's third-largest lender, is looking to raise A$1.4 billion (S$1.30 billion) through the issue of medium-term notes.

Tech stocks inched lower, with Afterpay Touch Group declining about 2 per cent to a nearly five-week closing low, and tech behemoth WiseTech Global giving up about 1 per cent at close.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index dipped 0.2 per cent to finish the session at 10,873.16, pressured by utilities and financials. Telecommunications company Sky Network TV tumbled 6.3 per cent, while electricity retailer Mercury NZ lost 3 per cent, as both stocks closed at their lowest in nearly two weeks.