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Australia: Shares flat; New Zealand dips on Friday

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares were barely changed on Friday as losses driven by energy stocks and a weaker outlook by Macquarie Group were partially offset by gains in the healthcare sector.

By 0129 GMT, the S&P/ASX 200 index was 0.04 per cent, or 2.7 points lower than Thursday's close, to stand at 6,335.7. The benchmark fell 0.6 per cent on Thursday and is set to snap four weeks of gains.

Shares of investment bank Macquarie Group fell as much as 7 per cent to the lowest since March 28 after it reported a 16.6 per cent rise in full-year profit, but warned that it expected fiscal 2020 results to be slightly lower than the current year.

The company however raised its final dividend to A$3.6 from A$3.2 last year.

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The Aussie financial subindex eased 0.7 per cent in early trade before paring some of its losses.

Other financial firms have also reported disappointing full year results, including National Australia Bank which slashed its dividend for the first time in a decade.

Energy stocks weighed heavily on the benchmark falling as much as 1.3 per cent to a more-than-three-week low.

Shares of heavyweight oil explorers Woodside Petroleum and Oil Search shed 1 per cent each.

Oil plunged on Thursday, with US crude prices dropping almost 3 per cent due to oversupply fears as US crude oil inventories rose sharply and tighter US sanctions on Iran were having a more gradual impact than had been expected.

Gold stocks also slipped 0.3 per cent lower after bullion prices fell to four-month lows.

Shares of gold miners Newcrest Mining and Northern Star Resources dropped 0.3 per cent and 0.7 per cent, respectively.

Defensive stocks like export-oriented healthcare stocks climbed 0.4 per cent with index heavyweight and drug manufacturer CSL advancing 0.5 per cent and medical device developer Resmed gaining 6.7 per cent following an upbeat third quarter results.

"Healthcare stocks are doing well today with all the other sectors either flat or marginally in front... We are looking at a holding pattern ahead of the weekend," said James McGlew, executive director of corporate stockbroking at Argonaut.

Looking ahead for cues for next week, McGlew singled out US unemployment figures, due for release later in the global day.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.3 per cent or 34.86 points to 10,050.89, coming off a record high hit on Thursday.

Shares of Meridian Energy and Ryman Healthcare dropped 0.4 per cent each.

REUTERS