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Australia shares end touch higher as gold stocks cap loses; NZ down

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares ended marginally higher on Friday after gold stocks snapped their losing streak to help the benchmark to its best weekly performance since early February, while energy stocks slipped on weak oil prices.

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed up 0.1 per cent, or 3.50 points, at 6,385.60, after gaining 1 per cent on Wednesday, before the holiday to mark ANZAC Day. The index ended higher for a fourth straight week, rising 2 per cent.

Gold stocks were the biggest gainers, surging 2.2 per cent to end a four-day losing streak, after bullion climbed on Friday, as signs of weak global growth rekindled investor interest in the safe-haven metal.

Saracen Mineral Holdings and Newcrest Mining jumped 5.5 per cent and 2.4 per cent, respectively.

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Meanwhile, financials, the benchmark's biggest constituents, erased early losses to end higher for an eighth straight session. The index saw its best week since late February, gaining 2.6 per cent.

Wealth manager IOOF Holdings Ltd fell 2.6 per cent after the company said three units received notices from the pension fund regulator saying they are not in full compliance of their licence conditions.

Westpac Banking Corp gained 0.6 per cent, while Commonwealth Bank of Australia rose 0.3 per cent, ahead of earnings from major Australian banks next week.

"Going into the earnings releases of banks there is definitely a lot of uncertainty which is something that investors are cautious of," said Tumul Sinha, an equities research analyst at ASR Wealth Advisers.

Elsewhere, energy stocks ended 1.5 per cent lower as oil prices dipped on hopes that producer club OPEC will soon raise output to make up for a decline in exports from Iran following a tightening of sanctions on Tehran by the United States.

Whitehaven Coal and WorleyParsons were the biggest losers in the sector, falling 3.2 per cent and 4.5 per cent, respectively.

Australia's mining index ended at its lowest in one month after the world's No. 4 iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group dived 5.4 per cent on weakness in iron ore prices. The index lost 1.4 per cent this week, to end lower for a third straight week.

Fortescue's bigger rivals Rio Tinto and BHP Ltd fell 0.8 per cent and 1.6 per cent, respectively.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index closed 0.8 per cent lower at 9,994.57, after hitting a record high on Wednesday. The index gained 0.4 per cent this week.

Ryman Healthcare and Pushpay Holdings were the top percentage losers on the index.

REUTERS