January 18, 2018 / 6:28 AM / 9 months ago

Australia shares end flat as materials, energy stocks weigh, NZ down

* Australia shares end 0.02 percent lower

* BHP rises after reporting strong operational figures

* NZ weighed down by healthcare stocks (Updates to close)

Jan 18 (Reuters) - Australian shares ended flat on Thursday as gains in the financial sector were offset by a fall in miners and energy stocks.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.02 percent or 1.2 points to close at 6,014.6. The benchmark was in the red for its third consecutive session.

The materials and mining index fell 0.5 percent with miner South32 slipping 2.6 percent on weak base metal prices.

Shanghai base metals futures were trading lower ahead of China’s economic growth data, which is expected to have slowed in the fourth quarter.

Bucking the trend in the materials sector, BHP Billiton Ltd firmed 0.13 percent after reporting a 3 percent rise in iron ore production in the second quarter.

The energy index fell 1.1 percent with Whitehaven Coal Ltd plunging 6.2 percent to a near one-month low.

Whitehaven reduced its full-year guidance for saleable coal output on Thursday after a decline in production from one of its main mines in the December quarter.

Meanwhile, financial stocks gained 0.2 percent, taking cues from their U.S. counterparts, which rose 0.8 percent on Wednesday in anticipation of a stronger earnings season.

Westpac Banking Corp added more than 1 percent in the session, while Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd gained 0.6 percent.

ANZ said on Thursday it has reached a settlement with Australia’s corporate regulator over suspected third party fraud and had agreed to pay a A$5 million ($3.98 million) fine.

Department store operator Myer Holdings Ltd fell 1.5 percent after it said it was overhauling its management following a slump in sales and criticism from its biggest shareholder, billionaire investor Solomon Lew.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index wiped off gains from earlier in the session to fall 0.3 percent, or 25 points, to finish at 8,272.67.

Healthcare stocks dragged the index lower with Ryman Healthcare falling 3.5 percent to its lowest in more than four weeks.

Fletcher Building Ltd dipped 1.7 percent, while communications provider Spark New Zealand Ltd fell 1.2 percent. ($1 = 1.2549 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Sumeet Gaikwad in Bengaluru; Editing by Eric Meijer)

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