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SYDNEY, Feb 15 Australian shares finished flat
on Friday, as investors were cautious after bleak euro zone data
and a $3 billion annual loss from global miner Rio Tinto.
Demand for banking stocks helped support the market,
although the absence of positive catalysts meant buyers lacked
conviction as traders awaited the outcome of the weekend meeting
of G20 finance ministers in Moscow.
Japan will be on the spotlight at the G20 forum, as prime
minister Shinzo Abe's bold policies to combat deflation has seen
the yen fall sharply, leaving Tokyo open to the criticism that
it's deliberately weakening its currency.
"The stellar earnings reports from earlier in the week meant
there was plenty of room for the market to be underwhelmed by
what followed," said Tim Waterer, senior trader at CMC Markets.
"This goes towards explaining the more lethargic tone struck
by the AX200 to cap off the week."
The S&P/ASX 200 index finished the day down 3 points
at 5,033.9. The benchmark, which hit a 4-1/2 year high Thursday,
rose 1.3 percent for the week, continuing the market's bull-run
for the fifth consecutive week.
A strong earnings season, receding fears about European and
U.S. debt woes, and a global shift in asset allocation towards
equities have bolstered sentiment and driven the market to highs
not seen since the Lehman Brothers' collapse.
"We are still holding at levels not seen since 2008," said
Stan Shamu, market strategist at IG Markets. "There is no doubt
that investors now fear 'missing out' rather than 'losing out'
as dips are quickly snapped up."
Global iron ore miner Rio Tinto Ltd tumbled 2.7
percent after the company's new chief flagged he would slash
costs, spend capital more carefully and focus on shareholder
value as the world's no.3 miner reported a $3 billion loss on
Thursday, its first ever full-year loss. Rival BHP
Billiton Ltd was down 0.8 percent.
Newcrest Mining lost 1.1 percent to A$23.10 and
Fortescue Metals fell 3 percent to A$5.23.
Financials finished the day firmer, with Westpac Banking
Corp leading the index higher, jumping 1.4 percent.
Australia's no.1 lender, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia
edged up 0.2 percent after reaching all-time highs earlier this
week following a strong first half earnings report.
Oil miners were firmer, with Woodside Petroleum
advancing 1.4 percent and Aurora Oil & Gas Ltd up 0.8
Defensives were mixed. Blood products maker CSL Ltd
dropped 1 percent, while Telstra slipped 0.2 percent.
Wesfarmers jumped 1.7 percent after it posted solid
underlying half year revenue of A$30.6 billion.
New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index finished the
session 1 percent or 42.5 points lower at 4,196.7.
(Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)