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Australia: Shares end lower on mining, energy stocks; NZ at all-time high

[BENGALURU] Australian shares declined in thin trade on Monday as mining stocks retreated after a run of strong gains and lower oil prices weighed on the energy sector.

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed down 0.5 per cent, or 31.20 points, at 6,785.10, with volumes at their lowest level since early October. The benchmark slipped 0.3 per cent on Friday.

The metals and mining sub-index fell 1.3 per cent, after clocking two straight weeks of gains.

BHP Group, the world's biggest miner, fell 1.3 per cent, while rival Rio Tinto lost 1.8 per cent. Australia's No 3 iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group declined 1.2 per cent.

Gold stocks lost 0.8 per cent as investors booked profits after a recent rally. The index rose 3.5 per cent last week, clocking its best weekly gain since late September.

Sector heavyweight Newcrest Mining slipped 0.7 per cent, while smaller peer Saracen Mineral Holdings fell 3.6 per cent.

Shares of Northern Star Resources closed down 0.8 per cent, after falling up to 3.5 per cent during the session.

Northern Star said it was aware of proceedings filed against some of its units over a joint venture agreement dispute. It said the proceedings were not material and would be defended.

Oil and gas companies Woodside Petroleum and Oil Search lost 0.3 per cent and 1.2 per cent, respectively, as crude prices slipped.

Dairy products maker Bega Cheese hit a near two-month high and was the biggest gainer on the bourse after it maintained its fiscal 2020 earnings outlook.

Outside the main index, rare earths developer Arafura Resources Ltd ended up 3.5 per cent after it said it struck a preliminary deal with a US company for the latter to process its rare earths product.

The ASX is set to close early on Tuesday and will remain closed for two days from Wednesday for Christmas and Boxing day.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.6 per cent, or 64.94 points, to finish the session at an all-time high of 11,547.23.

Restaurant Brands New Zealand firmed 6.5 per cent to a record close and was the best performer on the benchmark after the food retailer said it would buy 70 stores of KFC US franchisee in Southern California.