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Financials

Australia shares edge lower; post weekly gain on U.S. stimulus plan

* ASX200 snaps three-day winning streak

* Lynas tops index gains, up ~14% on U.S. rare earths deal

* NZ50 up about 1.7% for the week (Updates to close)

Jan 22 (Reuters) - Australian shares eased slightly after three sessions of gains on Friday, but ended the week 1.3% higher as investor confidence improved on U.S. President Joe Biden’s fiscal stimulus plans.

For the session, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index ended 0.3% lower.

“I don’t know right now if the equity markets are stalling or they are waiting for all the dust to settle from the change of power in the United States. It might turn out to be both,” said Brad Smoling, managing director at Smoling Stockbroking.

He, however, warned that possible pushback to Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal or major policy changes by the new U.S. administration through executive orders without warning could be a catalyst for an equity sell off.

Overnight, Biden signed a raft of executive orders aimed at fighting climate change, one among which saw the administration temporarily suspend oil and gas permitting on federal lands and waters.

Data showed Australian retailers suffered their biggest sales drop in eight months in December as consumers brought forward their Christmas shopping, but analysts said the drop was largely expected and not a concern as outlook remained strong.

The energy index was among the biggest drags, easing nearly 2%. Santos Ltd and Beach Energy ended 2.6% and 3.1% lower, respectively.

Financials also eased, with wealth manager Perpetual Ltd losing most in the sector, dropping nearly 5%. Insurance Australia Group and Macquarie Group also pulled back.

Miner Lynas Rare Earths was the index’s best performer with a 13.7% jump, after it signed a deal to build a commercial light rare earths separation plant in Texas.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 1.7% to finish at 13,333.43 and was up 1.7% for the week. Power companies Meridian Energy and Mercury NZ were among top gainers for the session. (Reporting by Rashmi Ashok in Bengaluru; Editing by Rashmi Aich)

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