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Australian shares turn lower as trade tensions weigh; NZ up

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares gave up early gains and turned lower as sentiment was dented by the latest exchange of trade threats between the United States and China, a major market for Australia's crucial resources exports.

Financial stocks were the biggest drag on the S&P/ASX 200 index, which edged 6.1 points lower to 6,234.8 at the close of trade to a week's low.

James McGlew, executive director of corporate stockbroking at Argonaut said: "There are these lingering concerns with regards to the rhetoric on the trade situation with the U.S. and China and this is causing people to be seated on the sidelines at the moment."

The drab mood was enough to drive the market just over 1 per cent lower for the week, to its worst weekly loss since the end of March.

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Commonwealth Bank of Australia extended its losses to be down 1.2 per cent at a one-month low.

Investors remain focused on the Royal Commission inquiry, which is set to resume hearings next week, ahead of CBA's earnings and amid its plans to sell its wealth management business.

The inquiry has already led to damaging revelations, wiping billions of dollars off market values of Australia's top banks, prompting executive departures and encouraging lenders to offload business units likely to be affected by any regulation that result from it.

Among the remaining 'Big Four' banks, Westpac Banking and Australia and New Zealand Banking fell 1 per cent and 0.9 per cent, respectively.

Miners were hit by weaker commodity prices as trade tensions fuelled uncertainty over demand.

BHP dropped 1.6 per cent to a near two-week low as the weaker commodity prices and a strike threat at its Escondida copper mine in Chile deterred investors.

The workers union has given the global miner till August 6 to come up with a better pay offer.

Export reliant sectors and the energy firms supported earlier gains in the market, sustained by weakness in the Australian dollar and overnight gains in oil prices.

Biotherapeutics firm CSL led the way, rising 1 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index ended the week in positive territory, up 0.2 per cent to 8,864.52, but not enough to halt a 1.5 per cent weekly loss.

Synlait Milk was among the top contributors to the index, after a2 Milk Company said it would pick up an additional 8.2 per cent stake for about NZ$161.8 million (S$149.2 million) from Japan's Mitsui & Co.

Synlait's stock rose 2.8 per cent, while a2 Milk reversed earlier gains to end 0.2 per cent lower.

REUTERS