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Australia: Shares inch lower, but on track for weekly gain; New Zealand down

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Australian shares inched lower on Friday, dragged down by financial and healthcare stocks, but were on track for a more than 1 per cent weekly rise on the back of Monday's sizeable gain.

[BENGALURU] Australian shares inched lower on Friday, dragged down by financial and healthcare stocks, but were on track for a more than 1 per cent weekly rise on the back of Monday's sizeable gain.

Fuelled by news that the United States and China agreed to a "phase one" trade deal, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index jumped 1.6 per cent on the first trading day of the week. Since then trading has been lacklustre, with most investors holding off big bets ahead of the Christmas break.

On Friday, the S&P/ASX 200 index fell 19.6 points, or 0.3 per cent, to 6,813.10 by 0009 GMT.

Among financial stocks, Westpac Banking Corp, the country's second-biggest lender, which has been hit by a string of lawsuits in the recent weeks, slipped for a fourth consecutive session. Westpac shares were down 0.5 per cent.

Shares of No. 3 lender National Australia Bank fell 0.3 per cent, while those of top lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia declined 0.4 per cent.

Pharmaceuticals giant CSL, the fifth-biggest stock on the index, reversed early gains to decline 0.4 per cent. Cochlear shed 0.8 per cent, while US-based Resmed Inc's Australian shares lost 0.7 per cent.

Supported by firm metals prices, copper and iron ore miners offered some support to the index. Heavyweight Rio Tinto rose 0.5 per cent, while Fortescue Metals Group inched higher.

Elsewhere, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index hit a record high for the second straight session before trading marginally lower.

Sky Network Television was the top gainer for a second consecutive session. SKT shares added 4.3 per cent, a day after the television broadcaster agreed to buy entertainment streaming service Lightbox and merge it with its own entertainment streaming service Neon.

The benchmark kiwi stock index was on track for a weekly gain of around 2.1 per cent after two straight weeks of losses.

REUTERS