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Australia shares held back by financials; NZ down


[BENGALURU] Australian shares closed flat on Thursday as gains in metals and energy stocks were offset by losses in financials, with scandal-hit wealth manager AMP tumbling in yet another reminder of the costly management missteps in the sector.

The S&P/ASX 200 index eased 0.07 or 4.2 points to 6,059.4 at the close, having fallen 0.3 per cent on Wednesday.

During the session, better than expected trade data reported out of Australia's major export market China had little impact on trading, as investors were focused on high-level U.S.-Sino tariff talks.

Financial stocks were hit hard after AMP Ltd flagged further outflows from its flagship wealth management unit, which has been under immense pressure after widespread misconduct was brought to light by the Royal Commission last year.

The shares of Australia's largest wealth manager dropped 7.8 per cent, while those of the big four banks also closed lower.

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The company, which posted a 97 per cent fall in its full year statutory profit, has lost more than half its market capitalisation in the past 12 months.

Shares of the country's biggest independent oil and gas producer, Woodside Petroleum Ltd, rose 1.9 per cent to a near four month high after it hiked its annual dividend by 47 per cent on the back of strong earning.

Higher oil prices pushed up other energy stocks with Santos Ltd and Origin Energy Ltd rising 0.9 per cent and 1 per cent, respectively.

Mining stocks posted a one per cent rise after the world's largest miner BHP Group said its board had approved $696 million in funding to expand production at the BP PLC-led Atlantis oil project in the US Gulf of Mexico.

Shares of BHP Group Ltd rose 1.6 per cent to end at their highest in more than 7-1/2 years while its rival Rio Tinto Ltd advanced 0.9 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index dipped 0.5 per cent or 48.46 points, snapping six straight sessions of gains, to finish the session at 9,284.92.

New Zealand listed shares of Westpac Banking Corp slid 0.6 per cent, while A2 Milk Company Ltd shed 2.7 per cent.

A2 Milk appeared to lose further ground after China, its biggest market, reported a 1.5 per cent drop in overall January imports.


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