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Australia shares flat in low-volume trade; NZ shut for holiday

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares were little changed on their first day of trade in 2018 on Tuesday, struggling for cues as major financial markets worldwide remained shut for the New Year's holiday.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was marginally higher at 0028 GMT. The benchmark fell 0.4 per cent on the last trading day of 2017, but logged a 7 per cent gain for the year.

"We had anticipated the market to be down a bit more than where we are... there's a bit of buying coming back in, but the volumes are non-existent," said Chris Weston, institutional dealer at IG Markets.

"Everyone's looking ahead and trying to find out what the trends are going to be... the immediate catalysts are probably going to come from European and US data."

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Material stocks accounted for most the gains on the index, with iron ore miners BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto edging up 0.4 per cent each.

Rio touched its highest since August 2011, and was set for its 10th straight session of gains, while BHP headed for its sixth session on top.

"If you look at the last three months or so, materials and energy stocks were the place to be, and it looks like that's spilling over into the new year," said Mr Weston.

Chinese iron ore futures jumped nearly 3 percent on Friday as investors bet steel mills in the world's top buyer of the ore will restock the raw material ahead of an expected end in March to steel production curbs imposed to cut pollution.

Gold miners also enjoyed modest gains as the metal touched a three-month high on Friday thanks to a weak US dollar, political tensions and receding concerns over the impact of US interest rate hikes.

Newcrest Mining was among the best performers on the index, climbing as much as 1.5 per cent.

Shares of Brambles rose 1.8 per cent in their biggest single-day spike in almost six weeks after the pallets and container company said it estimates a US$125 million to US$155 million one-time benefit due to the passing of new US tax laws.

New Zealand is closed for a public holiday, with the financial market reopening for trade on Wednesday. The NZ benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index gained 22 per cent in 2017 and extended its annual winning streak to a sixth consecutive year.

REUTERS