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Australia shares erase losses on Sino-UStrade hopes; NZ flat

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares erased early losses to close almost flat on Thursday as investors took heart from further signs that both Beijing and Washington may be moving to de-escalate their months-long trade dispute.

US government sources told Reuters on Wednesday that China - Australia's biggest trading partner - had sent a response to US demands for trade reform but gave no further details, raising hopes the two sides could resume negotiations to end their trade war.

The S&P/ASX 200 index tacked on 0.06 per cent or 3.2 points to close at 5,736.0. But that hardly took back any of the steep 1.74 per cent slide in the previous session when a plunge in oil prices and worries of weakening global growth triggered a broad risk-off move.

The slight improvement in sentiment allowed financial shares to pare nearly all losses to close a touch lower, with Commonwealth Bank of Australia losing 0.5 per cent and Westpac Banking Corp down 0.4 per cent.

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The banks had sold off in morning trade on weakness in their US peers which were hit by worries over more stringent regulations after the Democratic Party takes control of the US House of Representatives.

Healthcare stocks also erased losses to edge 0.2 per cent higher, with Cochlear Ltd putting on 0.7 per cent.

Gold stocks jumped 1.7 per cent after overnight gains in the yellow metal. Newcrest Mining Ltd firmed 1.9 per cent and St Barbara Ltd gained about 2 per cent.

On the downside, retirement community operator Aveo Group Ltd tumbled 4.4 per cent to a five-year closing low and was among biggest drags on the benchmark, after its management withheld fiscal year 2019 earnings guidance citing a softening residential market and uncertainty on future sales.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index closed nearly flat, off just 0.021 per cent or 1.85 points to finish at 8,825.89.

Losses among financial stocks were offset by gains in the industrial and healthcare sector.

Dairy firm a2 Milk Ltd rose 1.3 per cent at close.

REUTERS