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Australia shares inch higher on gains by energy firms; NZ falls

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares edged higher on Friday, as gains in energy and financial stocks slightly outweighed losses for mining heavyweights while weak US retail sales and softer Chinese inflation added to worries about the global economy.

The S&P/ASX 200 index gained 0.1 per cent or 6.7 points to 6066.1 at the close. The benchmark inched down 0.1 per cent on Thursday, and for the full week declined by the same marginal per centage.

China's factory-gate inflation slowed for a seventh straight month in January, while U.S. retail sales recorded their biggest drop in more than nine years in December.

Investors remained cautious ahead of a meeting between Washington's top two negotiators in trade talks and Chinese President Xi Jinping later on Friday.

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Energy stocks gained 0.8 per cent on the back of rising oil prices. Heavyweights Woodside Petroleum Ltd and Santos Ltd rose 1.5 per cent and 0.8 per cent, respectively.

Financial stocks closed slightly higher, ending a five-day streak of losses for the subindex, which shed 2.1 per cent for the week.

Three of the Big Four banks advanced, led by the 1 per cent gain for Australia and New Zealand Banking Group. National Australia Bank Ltd slipped marginally.

Shares of mining giants BHP Group Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd shed 0.6 per cent and 0.7 per cent, respectively.

Pharmaceutical company CSL Ltd, which has the fifth largest market capitalisation on the exchange, fell 1.2 per cent.

Shares of Whitehaven Coal Ltd tumbled 6.7 per cent, even though Australia's largest independent coal producer reported a higher interim profit. Investors were apprehensive about rising costs and a cut in guidance on 2019 saleable coal.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index dropped 0.4 per cent or 39.27 points to finish at 9,245.65. The index gained about 0.8 per cent for the week.

A2 Milk Company Ltd plunged 3.8 per cent, increasing its two-day loss to 6.5 per cent on concerns about China. Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corporation Ltd shed 1.4 per cent.

REUTERS