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Australian shares flat as materials weigh; NZ crawls into 6th straight record high

[BENGALURU] Australian shares were flat on Thursday, as gains across a bevy of sectors were largely negated by weakness in materials, with iron ore miners taking a hit from falling prices.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 1.16 points or 0.02 per cent to 5773.4 by 0037 GMT. The benchmark gained 0.6 per cent on Wednesday.

Index heavyweights BHP Billiton Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd were among the main drags on the benchmark, with both stocks losing more than one per cent each.

"The weakness in resources is weighing in on the index. Primarily, it'd have to with the iron ore price," said Ben Le Brun, a market analyst at OptionsXpress.

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Iron ore futures fell overnight on fears of falling demand in winter as Beijing's crusade against pollution is likely to reduce steel production cuts.

"There wasn't much happening in commodities overnight… We priced in the gains in oil in the previous session, so I think the overarching thematic is softer iron ore prices," he added.

Financials stocks rose, with the financial index rising about 0.2 per cent, driven by rising bank stocks.

Bank of Queensland Ltd was among the top percentage gainers on the index after its annual profit rose about 4 per cent. The stock was also trading at a 20-month high.

"Bank of Queensland released some earnings numbers today which impressed, so that might be driving up sentiment in the sector," Mr Le Brun added.

Industrial stocks were also higher, with contract miner CIMIC Group Ltd hitting a more than nine-year high.

Meanwhile, New Zealand shares rose to an intraday record for a sixth consecutive session, buoyed by materials and consumer staples, although healthcare stocks capped gains.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.05 per cent or four points to 8064.98.

Building materials maker Fletcher Building Ltd gained about 1.8 per cent, while Synlait Milk Ltd touched a record high.

Conversely, Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corporation Ltd shed about 2.6 per cent.

REUTERS