April 7, 2017 / 7:35 AM / 4 months ago

Australia shares held back by US missile strikes on Syria; NZ down

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(Updates to close)

April 7 (Reuters) - Australian shares struggled on Friday as investors took flight from global risk after the United States launched cruise missile strikes on a Syrian airbase, sharply escalating the U.S. role in Syria's years-long civil war.

Investors were already in a cautious mood as they awaited the outcome of talks between U.S. President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, and a key monthly jobs report later in the day.

The S&P/ASX 200 index edged up 0.1 percent to finish at 5,862.50, trimming modest earlier gains in the wake of the U.S. attacks on Syria. Over the week, the benchmark declined 0.04 percent in a period that was marked by a lack of conviction from buyers.

"I think this has become something a bit more concerning between the U.S. and Russia," said Chris Weston, an institutional dealer at IG Markets, adding markets will be keen to see the response from Moscow and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"If we do see a response from Assad, then markets will probably come off a little bit more."

Trump ordered the multiple missile strikes against a Syrian airbase in response to a deadly chemical attack in a rebel-held area.

The attacks spurred a flight to safety in global financial markets, sending oil and gold prices rallying as the dollar slipped.

Gold index ended 2.9 percent higher, with Newcrest Mining leading the gains.

Utility company AGL Energy Ltd closed 2.6 percent higher. Banks and material stocks were modestly down.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index declined 0.6 percent or 45.76 points to finish the session at 7,243.76.

The benchmark added 0.7 percent this week.

Utilities and healthcare stocks lost the most on the index, with Meridian Energy Ltd shedding 1.9 percent while Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corp gave up nearly 1 percent. (Reporting by Krishna V Kurup in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Urvashi Goenka; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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