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Australian shares end flat, Fairfax jumps on M&A news; NZ flat

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares were little changed at the close on Thursday as merger activity in the media industry and news of the appointment of a new chief executive at Macquarie Group did little to support the broader market.

Financials slipped after Macquarie Group promoted veteran company executive Shemara Wikramanayake to be its first female chief executive, as the bank coupled its announcement of personnel change at the top with a forecast of flat profit growth in 2019. The stock closed down 2.6 per cent.

That was partly to blame for a lacklustre performance by the S&P/ASX 200 index, which eased three points to 6,244.5. The benchmark slipped 0.3 per cent on Wednesday.

Ms Wikramanayake takes the role at the start of what is expected to be a tough phase for financial services companies in Australia, with the sector facing the country's most powerful type of public inquiry, a Royal Commission.

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Other banks such as Australia and New Zealand Banking fell 0.3 per cent.

Corporate activity was the highlight of the day, after Fairfax Media agreed to a A$2.16 billion buyout from television network Nine Entertainment Co Holdings, in a major shake up to the Australian media industry.

Shares of the newspaper publisher rose 8.4 per cent, while those of Nine Entertainment slumped 10.3 per cent.

On the positive ledger, the gold index climbed nearly 4 per cent, with gains driven by Newcrest Mining which reported a 15 per cent increase in fourth-quarter gold output.

Shares of the gold miner jumped close to 5 per cent.

The energy sector closed 0.8 per cent higher, supported by a rise in oil prices for a third day to over $74 a barrel, after Saudi Arabia suspended crude shipments through a strategic Red Sea shipping lane and data showed lower U.S. inventories.

Santos and Woodside Petroleum led the gains, rising 2.3 per cent and 0.7 per cent, respectively.

Across the Tasman sea, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index also closed virtually flat, down 1.4 points to 8.932.48.

Losses from index heavyweight a2 Milk Company and Spark New Zealand, helped mitigate a 1.4 per cent gain by Ryman Healthcare Ltd.

REUTERS