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Aug 25 (Reuters) - Australian shares finished nearly flat on Friday, as gains in energy stocks were offset by losses in banks and the real estate sector.
Investors were cautious, however, ahead of speeches later in the day by the heads of the U.S. and European central banks in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Their remarks will be closely watched for any hints on the path of monetary policy.
Declines on Wall Street overnight put the Australian market on the backfoot early, though it clawed back most losses by the close.
The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index ended down 0.03 percent, or 1.58 points, at 5,743.90. For the week, it dipped 0.1 percent.
Real estate stocks stumbled, with Scentre Group falling 3.1 percent to close at its lowest in nearly two years.
Sellers also targeted financials.
Westpac Banking Corp, Australia’s No.2 bank by assets, was the biggest drag on the index, finishing 1.1 percent down. Australia and New Zealand Banking and National Australia Bank ended 0.5 percent and 0.4 percent lower, respectively.
But energy stocks firmed, with the Australian energy index rising 1.3 percent, extending its gains for the week to nearly 4 percent.
Shares of Australia’s second-largest independent oil and gas producer Santos Ltd closed up 3.7 percent, its highest in over three months.
Australia’s biggest airline Qantas Airways Ltd closed 3.8 percent up after reporting its second-highest annual profit.
New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 10.60 points, or 0.14 percent, to 7,857.81. The index fell 0.2 percent for the week.
Gains in consumer staples were off-set by losses in the healthcare sector.
Dairy firm a2 Milk Company extended its rise to record highs, finishing up 4.9 percent.
Retirement village operator Ryman Healthcare Ltd ended the session 1.7 percent lower.
Reporting by Chandini Monnappa in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Twaronite and Kim Coghill