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Australia: Shares end slightly up on energy sector gains; NZ down

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Australian shares closed marginally higher on Thursday, as trading remained subdued ahead of the Easter holidays, with losses in healthcare and gold stocks offsetting gains in the energy sector.

[SYDNEY] Australian shares closed marginally higher on Thursday, as trading remained subdued ahead of the Easter holidays, with losses in healthcare and gold stocks offsetting gains in the energy sector.

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed up 0.1 per cent, or 3.4 points, at 6,259.80, after falling 0.3 per cent on Wednesday. The index gained for a third straight week, rising 0.1 per cent.

Markets in Australia and New Zealand will be closed on Friday and Monday for the Easter holidays.

The Australian healthcare sub-index fell 1.3 per cent, in line with overnight losses in their US peers, with the S&P healthcare index falling 2.5 per cent.

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Sector heavyweight, drug maker CSL Ltd, slipped 1.3 per cent while Resmed Inc tumbled 4 per cent. Both companies have high exposure to US markets.

The healthcare index fell about 2.3 per cent this week, its biggest fall in 9 weeks.

The Australian financial index extended gains for a fifth straight session, closing 0.2 per cent higher. The index gained 2.2 per cent this week, its biggest weekly gain since late-February.

Meanwhile, energy stocks snapped losses to close about 1.1 per cent higher, as oil prices rose on Thursday supported by ongoing Opec-led supply cuts and a surprise fall in US crude inventories.

Woodside Petroleum Ltd rose 1 per cent after reporting a 4 per cent rise in its first-quarter revenue, while Whitehaven Coal Ltd jumped 6.4 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index retreated from its record high in the previous session, to end down 0.2 per cent, or 22.62 points, at 9,959.62 on Thursday.

REUTERS