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Australia: Shares flat as fresh trade tariffs take effect

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares were little changed on Monday as investors stayed cautious, contemplating the after-effects of another round of tariff hikes in the festering trade war between the United States and China.

Beijing and Washington began imposing additional tariffs on each other's goods on Sunday, the latest escalation in a bruising trade war, but US President Donald Trump said the sides would still meet for talks later this month.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was down 0.06 per cent to 6.600.80 by 0136 GMT, after gaining more than 1 per cent on Friday.

"The uncertainty related to the trade situation is persisting. The leads are negative this morning with the oil sector declining on lower prices," said James McGlew, executive director of corporate stockbroking at Argonaut.

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Energy stocks led the declines as crude futures were impacted ahead of a hurricane near the Florida coast, as closed refineries threaten to dampen demand.

Hurricane Dorian, the second strongest Atlantic storm on record, pounded two Bahamian islands on Sunday night and was forecast to move close to Florida in the next two days, according to US forecasters.

Oil retailer Viva Energy Group and gas firm Santos fell as much as 2 per cent each.

Fertiliser and explosives producer Incitec Pivot, was the top percentage loser on the benchmark after it said it would review its fertiliser business and lowered its operating profit forecast due to drought and increased costs.

The main retailers were all trading in the red after the country's largest supermarket operator Woolworths on Friday gave investors little cause of optimism about a rebound in consumer spending.

Woolworths declined as much as 1.6 per cent while its smaller rival Coles Group lost about a per cent.

The Metals and Mining sector provided the pocket of relative strength in early trade, with the sub-index gaining as much as 0.7 per cent.

Gold stocks propelled the sector as bullion gained being the safe-harbour asset at times of broader worries in the equities markets.

Dacian Gold put on about 3 per cent while Evolution Mining tacked on more than 1.3 per cent.

Overall gains in the metals sector were pulled down by iron-ore focused miner Fortescue Metals Group, which lost up to 1.8 per cent trading ex-dividend.

The heavyweight Financials index was little changed in morning trade.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.1 per cent to 10,769.10 with communication services provider Chorus Ltd leading the gains, putting on more than 2 per cent.