January 22, 2018 / 1:56 AM / in a year

Australia shares flat as financials erode gains in materials; NZ up

* Financials weigh on Aussie shares

* Base metal prices boost material stocks

* Consumer staples drive New Zealand shares higher

By Sandhya Sampath

Jan 22 (Reuters) - Australian shares were sluggish on Monday, with declines in financial stocks offsetting gains in materials and consumer staples.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.03 percent or 1.60 points to 6,004.6 by 0109 GMT. The benchmark fell 0.2 percent on Friday.

“The market is being a little bit coarse (macro-oriented) I guess, including the banks. It is taking cues from the Wall Street futures,” said Ric Spooner, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

Stock investors gave a muted reaction to the second day of a U.S. government shutdown on Sunday, with U.S. stock index futures dipping only slightly on expectations that the political impasse will not hurt the U.S. economy.

“The most likely scenario would be a reasonably flat sort of a day around current levels,” said Spooner.

Australia’s financial stocks hit a 6-week low, falling as much as 0.5 percent, with the “Big Four” banks losing between 0.3 percent and 1.1 percent.

The biggest loser on the main index was Domain Holdings Australia Ltd, which fell as much as 12.1 percent to a record low after the real estate classifieds company said Antony Catalano had resigned as chief executive officer.

Real estate stocks were also lower, with GPT Group sliding as much as 1.4 percent, while Scentre Group lost 1 percent.

The metals and mining index rose as much as 0.9 percent, with mining giants BHP Billiton Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd adding 0.6 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively.

Falling stockpiles and pollution alerts in top metals producer China fuelled supply concerns and helped to drive zinc and lead prices to multi-year highs and aluminium to a two-week peak on Friday.

Materials also got a boost from gold stocks, which climbed as much as 1.2 percent in early trade, riding on higher gold prices.

Beadell Resources surged as much as 3.9 percent, while fellow gold miner Evolution Mining gained 1.9 percent.

Retail giant Woolworths Group Ltd pulled the consumer staples sector up, rising as much as 1.4 percent.

Rail freight operator Aurizon Holdings rose around 2.2 percent.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.5 percent or 43.76 points to 8,332.42, with consumer staples and healthcare stocks accounting for more than half of the gains.

Top gainer a2 Milk Company Ltd rose as much as 4.8 percent to hit a near 2-month high, while Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corp gained 0.5 percent.

Reporting by Sandhya Sampath in Bengaluru; Editing by Eric Meijer

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