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Australia shares steady; NZ ends at 8-month high

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares ended little changed on Thursday, shedding most of the gains recorded earlier in the session, as strength in financials, healthcare and consumer stocks was offset by declines in the telecom sector.

The S&P/ASX 200 index inched up 0.05 per cent, or 2.86 points, to 5,878.3 at the close of trade.

Consumer non-cylicals was the best-performing sector, led by Graincorp Ltd which jumped 8.3 per cent to hit a near-two-year closing high.

Australia's largest listed grain handler said its half-year underlying profit more than tripled as a record wheat crop underpinned revenue growth.

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The telecom sector was the biggest drag on the index, led by declines in Telstra Corp, which fell 1.4 per cent after its retail partner Vita Group said it will suspend plans to expand the number of stores in its retail network.

Shares of Vita Group fell more than 30 per cent to end at a more-than-two-year low.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index ended 0.9 per cent, or 65.51 points, firmer at an eight-month high of 7,489.71.

The gains were broad-based with all sectors in the black.

In an interview with Reuters, Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) Assistant Governor John McDermott said underlying inflation expectations in the country had not changed substantially from three months ago and the central bank has a neutral bias on interest rates.

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corp Ltd drove the gains on the index, climbing 2.3 per cent to hit a more-than-eight-month closing high.