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Australian shares mark time ahead of US job data; NZ hits record closing high

[BENGALURU] Australian shares ended flat on Thursday, with gains in materials and consumer staple companies offset by selling in financials, while New Zealand's benchmark index hit another record high.

Australian shares were initially in the black as they tracked Wall Street's gains on strong US services data, but they gave up those gains later in the day as traders grew cautious ahead of US non-farm payrolls on Friday.

The S&P/ASX 200 index ended flat at 5,651.80 points. The benchmark slipped 0.9 per cent on Wednesday.

BHP Billiton gained 0.5 per cent while Rio Tinto rose 0.8 per cent.

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Qantas Airways closed up 3.2 per cent at a record high and pushed the index up the most.

Gains in materials and consumer staples on the benchmark were largely negated by losses in lenders like Australia and New Zealand Banking Group and National Australia Bank , which fell over 0.5 per cent each and were among the index's biggest drags.

Meanwhile, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index closed at a record high, gaining 0.3 per cent, or 25.01 points, to 7,974.7.

The government reported a higher than expected operating surplus of NZ$4.07 billion (S$4 billion), on a day when the political impasse in Wellington seemed to marginally ease as the New Zealand First party started coalition talks with the governing and opposition parties.

Consumer and telecom stocks propped up the benchmark index. Dairy company A2 Milk rose 5.7 per cent and pushed up the index the most.

Conversely, Auckland Airport weighed on the index as it fell 2.7 per cent, touching its lowest level this year.

REUTERS