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Australia shares sluggish ahead of US jobs data; NZ slips

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares traded cautiously on Friday as investors awaited US job numbers due later in the day that could clarify the outlook for a mooted year-end Federal Reserve rate hike.

The S&P/ASX 200 index inched lower after eking out early gains, ending down 11.7 points, or 0.2 per cent, to 5,471.3 as at 0010 GMT.

The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week to near a 43-year low, foreshadowing the nonfarm payrolls report for September due later on Friday, and expected to show 175,000 new jobs the were created last month.

"There is a bit of strength in energy. Oil spiked a little bit, but really, everyone is looking at US data," said Hugh Dive, senior portfolio manager at Aurora Funds Management.

Financials and materials were the biggest drag on the benchmark index.

Gold miner Newcrest Mining Ltd fell 1.8 per cent after gold fell for the eighth straight session on Thursday, slipping to a four-month low, pressured by a stronger dollar.

Global miner BHP Billiton slid as much as 0.5 per cent, while its spin-off South32 shed two per cent.

At the other end, coal miner Whitehaven Coal rose 3.5 per cent, on track to rise for a fourth straight day, which would be its longest run of daily gains since July.

Australia's Department of Industry, Innovation and Science raised its 2016 average price forecasts for the country's two highest-grossing exports, iron ore and coal, by 10 per cent and 16 per cent respectively, citing a surprise upturn in demand from steelmakers in China.

Energy stocks rose 0.6 per cent in early trade, driven by gains in oil prices. Oil rose more than one per cent to four-month highs on Thursday, spurred by another informal Opec meeting on output cuts and falling US crude inventories.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index slipped for a fourth straight session, falling as much as 0.9 per cent to a more than two month low of 7130.41.

Declining issues outpaced advancers on the New Zealand exchange by a 3.3-to-1 ratio.

Industries and healthcare were the biggest drag on the benchmark, with Auckland International Airport Ltd and Ryman Healthcare Ltd slipping about one per cent each.

Xero Ltd was among the top percentage losers on the benchmark, dropping 2.8 per cent, while Chorus Ltd shed 1.7 per cent.