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Australian shares flat as healthcare, energy gains offset bank and materials losses; NZ down

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares closed flat on Monday as losses in banks and materials, fuelled by a possible escalation in the Sino-US trade conflict and a looming Federal Reserve rate hike, were offset by gains in healthcare and energy stocks.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.03 per cent or 2.1 points to 6,141.70 at the close of trade, its eighth straight session of losses. The benchmark declined 0.3 per cent on Friday.

Financial heavyweights were among biggest drags on Monday, with a powerful Australian inquiry turning its attention to the A$46 billion (S$45.2 billion) insurance sector.

Westpac Banking Corp fell 0.4 per cent to its lowest since Aug 24, while National Australia Bank Ltd (NAB) dipped 0.7 per cent to a two-week low.

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Earlier in the day NAB said it will not lift its variable mortgage rate as it tries to win public support following revelations of misconduct, and despite its three larger rivals hiking their own rates.

Materials, especially mining stocks, were also lower, hit by a selloff in London copper which fell more than one per cent.

BHP, the world's biggest miner, slipped 0.3 per cent to a more than four-month low, while its rival Rio Tinto Ltd dropped 0.8 per cent.

But healthcare and energy stocks gained, braking the benchmark's slide.

Healthcare stocks rose 0.6 per cent on Monday, after recording their biggest weekly fall in more then seven years last week. Drugmaker CSL Ltd strengthened 0.7 per cent.

A jump in oil prices boosted energy stocks, with Woodside Petroleum Ltd gaining 0.8 per cent.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index dipped 0.5 per cent or 46.76 points to finish the session at 9,048.63.

Healthcare stocks amplified the bearish tone, with Ryman Healthcare Ltd declining 2.3 per cent while Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corporation Ltd fell 0.7 per cent.

REUTERS