November 23, 2017 / 6:15 AM / 9 months ago

Australian shares steady as financials fall, materials rise; NZ down

(Updates to close)

Nov 23 (Reuters) - Australian shares ended flat on Thursday as losses in financial stocks effectively cancelled out the gains made by materials stocks on higher iron ore prices.

The S&P/ASX200 index fell 0.213 points to 5,986.20.

The ‘Big Four’ banks were in the red, shedding between 0.2 percent to 0.7 percent.

“Index-selling seems to be driving the index lower. The concern is that the market is rejecting the 6,000 level as a whole and so we’re seeing some protection strategies being put in place,” said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

“Financials make up half of the index, so it is index selling that’s hurting them and driving them lower.”

The Australian financial index was down 0.4 percent tracking falls in Wall Street’s S&P 500 financial index.

Consumer stocks added to the falls with A2 Milk Company Ltd reversing early gains from a record high to close 4.2 percent lower.

Beverage maker Coca-Cola Amatil Ltd shed 4.9 percent after Managing Director Alison Watkins said on Wednesday that an A$40 million ($30.48 million) investment to accelerate growth in Australian beverage sales would take a toll on 2018 earnings.

Materials stocks offered some respite, though, with mining heavyweights BHP Billiton and South32 Ltd accounting for most of the gains on the benchmark.

South32 gained 2.1 percent, while BHP extended gains to a third session and rose 1.3 percent and rival Rio Tinto added 0.4 percent.

Rebar on the Shanghai Futures Exchange rose 0.8 percent to 3,824 yuan a tonne on Thursday. The most-traded iron ore for January delivery contract on the Dalian Commodity Exchange was up 4.1 percent.

New Zealand’s S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.04 percent or 3.04 points to 8,101.95.

Official data on Thursday showed that quarterly sales volumes rose a seasonally adjusted 0.2 percent, well below the 1.8 percent jump seen in the previous quarter.

Consumer staples were the biggest drag on the index, with A2 Milk Company Ltd reversing from a record high to close down 3 percent while dairy giant Fonterra shed 0.2 percent. ($1 = 1.3122 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Syed Saif Hussain Naqvi in Bengaluru; Editing by Eric Meijer)

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