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Australia shares steady as trade war fears intensify; NZ up

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares ended effectively flat on Friday with investors holding positions as they now await China's response to US President Donald Trump's newly proposed tariff plan. Mr Trump instructed trade officials on Thursday to consider a US$100 billion of tariffs on Chinese goods after China said it would subject US$50 billion of US goods to increased tariffs. The escalation followed Mr Trump's initial proposal for a 25 per cent tariff on many imports from China.

"So far it is still just a war of words, with investors assuming the final outcome will fall far short of the threats, though nervousness has risen," RBC Capital Markets said in a note.

"We still expect China to soften its tone behind the scenes, as it has more to lose in a full-blown trade war, but it would be prudent to stick to risk-neutral trades as trade war headlines shake out."

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed 10 basis points lower at 5,788.7, and logged a weekly gain of 0.5 per cent, ending a three-week run of losses.

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Gains in materials stocks countered losses in financials as miner BHP closed 0.5 per cent higher, cancelling Commonwealth Bank of Australia's 0.4 per cent loss.

Woodside Petroleum added 1.1 per cent and closed at it highest in nearly two months, while mall operator Westfield Corp finished the session up 1.6 pct.

Healthcare stock CSL Ltd was the biggest drag, down 0.8 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.4 per cent, or 29.28 points, to finish the session at 8,393.27. The index added 0.9 per cent on the week, gaining in three of this four sessions. The market was closed on Monday for an Easter holiday.

Materials and consumer discretionary stocks led gains with Fletcher Building closing 1.6 per cent higher and Sky Network Television ending up 6.3 per cent.

REUTERS