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Australian shares ease in thin pre-Christmas trade; NZ up

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[BENGALURU] Australian stocks eased on Monday as financials were weighed by insurers, while shares of MYOB surged after recommending a takeover offer from a US private equity firm.

With markets winding down to the Christmas break, trading was light as the S&P/ASX 200 index gave up 0.1 per cent to 5,461.5 by 0010 GMT. It was off in early deals to a two-year low, still shaky having suffered its biggest weekly loss in over a month on Friday.

The market will close early on Monday for the Christmas holidays.

MYOB Group shares jumped as much as 14.5 per cent for its biggest gain in 11 weeks after the accounting software maker said it would recommend US private equity giant KKR & Co's buyout offer.

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Last week, KKR cut its A$1.8 billion buyout proposal for the Australian company, to A$3.40 per share, from A$3.77, a move that sent its shares tumbling.

Australian insurers were in the red, with top players Suncorp Group, QBE Insurance and Insurance Australia Group falling between 0.5 percent and 1.5 per cent.

This followed broad declines in the industry on Friday, after the some insurers flagged the cost of claims from a hailstorm in Sydney.

IAG, which said it had received more than 6,500 claims due to the storm and flagged an estimated A$169 million (S$163.2 million) in costs, fell as much as 1.8 per cent to its lowest in over one-year.

Among the Big Four banks, Westpac Banking Corp dropped 1.3 per cent, despite an Australian court dismissing a regulator's claim that the country's second-biggest bank breached its license during a drive to boost its pension funds.

However, the court criticised the bank for failing to treat its customers honestly - an accusation the sector has struggled to shake-off this year in the face of revelations of widespread misconduct.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index closed marginally higher at 8,700.78, following a 1 per cent drop on Friday.

Gains of 1.6 percent and 2 per cent from Fisher & Paykel Healthcare and NZX Ltd helped boost the index.

REUTERS