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Australia shares fall, dented by financial and healthcare firms; NZ slips

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares slipped on Friday, led down by financial and healthcare stocks, as investors booked profits for a second day following a robust rally.

Some investors were cautious after US President Donald Trump, who met Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He in Washington, said a trade deal with China is at least a month away, with some differences yet to be bridged.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.8 per cent or 51.5 points to 6,181.3 at the close. On Thursday, which saw the end of a seven-session rally that reached a near seven-month high, the benchmark also dropped 0.8 per cent.

For the week, the index barely moved.

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"We had a good seven-day run and so there is a bit of profit taking there," said Mathan Somasundaram, market portfolio strategist at Blue Ocean Equities.

"Given the macro risks and geopolitics running around, you don't want to go in to the weekend with too much exposure."

Financial stocks declined 0.9 per cent and had a fifth consecutive week of losses. Wealth manager AMP Ltd among Friday's top decliners, down 2.3 per cent.

All of the Big Four banks lost ground. National Australia Bank Ltd shed 1.4 per cent and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group 1.2 per cent.

Healthcare stocks also came under pressure, with index heavyweight CSL Ltd losing 1.2 per cent.

Sigma Healthcare Ltd lost 1.9 per cent and Cochlear Ltd tumbled 2.1 per cent.

Coal miners notched steep losses after Australian thermal coal prices suffered their biggest weekly fall since 2008, as demand plunges and worries persist over the strength of the global economy.

The largest independent coal producer Whitehaven Coal ended 3 per cent lower, at its lowest close since December 2017, while New Hope Corporation Ltd fell 1.4 per cent.

Mining stocks edged lower, with BHP Group slipping 0.5 per cent. However, miners posted a weekly gain of 1.7 per cent, supported by strong iron ore prices.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.4 per cent or 35.55 points to finish at 9,857.05, but advanced 0.1 per cent this week - its ninth straight weekly gain.

Retirement village operator Summerset Group Holdings Ltd was the top decliner, down 7 per cent after quarterly sales declined and settlement times increased due to slowing property markets in Auckland and Christchurch.

REUTERS