Australia shares flat, weakness in miners, banks cap gains

Mon May 13, 2013 3:23am BST

(Adds details, comments, stocks on the move)

SYDNEY May 13 (Reuters) - Australian shares were almost flat on Monday, as weakness in major banking, mining and gold stocks offset gains by companies benefiting from a rise in the US dollar.

The S&P/ASX 200 index dipped 1.09 points to 5,204.9 by 0224 GMT, notching fresh five-year highs. The index edged up 0.2 percent on Friday.

"Recent weakness in the Australian dollar is likely to support the outlook for exporters and businesses competing with imports," said Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets.

Stocks with a large exposure to the U.S. markets rallied as the Australian dollar hovered around $1.0004 after falling below parity on Friday to $0.9961, its lowest since June 2012.

Property and casualty insurer QBE Insurance Ltd climbed 2.2 percent, Brambles rose 1.3 percent, while biotechnology firm CSL Ltd and Westfield Group both rose 0.9 percent.

In the financial sector, Westpac Banking Corp dropped 3.4 percent and investment bank Macquarie Group Ltd lost 1.4 percent after both went ex-dividend.

Global miners BHP Billiton Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd lost 1 percent and 1.3 percent respectively, as investors remained concerned about a tepid recovery in the biggest commodity consumer China.

Gold miners were moderately weaker after bullion fell nearly 1.5 percent on Friday as a sharp rise in the U.S. dollar triggered technical selling. Newcrest Mining Ltd and Regis Resources Ltd declined 3.3 percent and 5 percent respectively.

The Dow and S&P 500 ended at record highs on Friday, and stocks posted a third consecutive week of gains as a rise in Google and other technology shares offset a slide in energy stocks.

New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index rose 0.2 percent or 7.5 points to all time highs of 4,660.3.

STOCKS ON THE MOVE

* Echo Entertainment Group rose 2.8 percent after Crown Ltd won regulatory approval to lift its 10 percent stake in the operator of Sydney's sole casino. Crown added 1.1 percent.

* Engineering services group Coffey International Ltd crashed 39.1 percent to A$0.14 after the company announced revisions to its full year earnings estimates, saying a significant softening in Australian market conditions has led to increased project cancellations and delays.

(0122 GMT)

* Drug delivery manufacturer Unilife Corp rocketed 31.9 percent higher to A$0.62. The company on Friday reported a smaller net loss and general expenses.

(0123 GMT)

(Reporting By Thuy Ong; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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