October 7, 2016 / 1:26 AM / a year ago

Australia shares sluggish ahead of U.S. jobs data; NZ slips

Oct 7 (Reuters) - Australian shares traded cautiously on Friday as investors awaited U.S. job numbers due later in the day that could clarify the outlook for a mooted year-end Federal Reserve rate hike.

The S&P/ASX 200 index inched lower after eking out early gains, ending down 11.7 points, or 0.2 percent, to 5,471.3 as at 0010 GMT.

The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week to near a 43-year low, foreshadowing the nonfarm payrolls report for September due later on Friday, and expected to show 175,000 new jobs the were created last month.

“There is a bit of strength in energy. Oil spiked a little bit, but really, everyone is looking at U.S. data,” said Hugh Dive, senior portfolio manager at Aurora Funds Management.

Financials and materials were the biggest drag on the benchmark index.

Gold miner Newcrest Mining Ltd fell 1.8 percent after gold fell for the eighth straight session on Thursday, slipping to a four-month low, pressured by a stronger dollar.

Global miner BHP Billiton slid as much as 0.5 percent, while its spin-off South32 shed 2 percent.

At the other end, coal miner Whitehaven Coal rose 3.5 percent, on track to rise for a fourth straight day, which would be its longest run of daily gains since July.

Australia’s Department of Industry, Innovation and Science raised its 2016 average price forecasts for the country’s two highest-grossing exports, iron ore and coal, by 10 percent and 16 percent respectively, citing a surprise upturn in demand from steelmakers in China.

Energy stocks rose 0.6 percent in early trade, driven by gains in oil prices. Oil rose more than 1 percent to four-month highs on Thursday, spurred by another informal OPEC meeting on output cuts and falling U.S. crude inventories.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index slipped for a fourth straight session, falling as much as 0.9 percent to a more than two month low of 7130.41.

Declining issues outpaced advancers on the New Zealand exchange by a 3.3-to-1 ratio.

Industries and healthcare were the biggest drag on the benchmark, with Auckland International Airport Ltd and Ryman Healthcare Ltd slipping about 1 percent each.

Xero Ltd was among the top percentage losers on the benchmark, dropping 2.8 percent, while Chorus Ltd shed 1.7 percent.

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Reporting by Justin George Varghese; Additional Reporting by Shashwat Pradhan in Bengaluru; Editing by Eric Meijer

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