July 28, 2014 / 2:31 AM / in 4 years

Australia shares steady, Healthscope debuts at listing price

* ASX 200 flat, banks slip, gold miners tread higher

* 97 shares are higher, 79 lower and 24 unchanged (Adds analysis, quotes, stocks on the move)

By Thuy Ong and Gyles Beckford

SYDNEY/WELLINGTON, July 28 (Reuters) - Australian shares steadied on Monday to recover from an earlier dip as a weakness on Wall Street and metal prices was offset by an uptick in gold, though the financials dragged slightly as investors mostly stood at the sidelines.

Banks took the market lower with Commonwealth Bank of Australia, the top bank by market capitalisation was down 0.3 percent, while Australia’s second biggest bank by market value, Westpac Banking Corp, lost 0.5 percent.

National Australia Bank Ltd bucked the trend, adding 0.2 percent after it agreed to sell a 625 million pound ($1 billion) portfolio of mostly non-performing UK commercial property loans to an affiliate of private equity firm Cerberus Global Investors.

Elsewhere, Australia’s No. 2 private hospital company Healthscope Ltd debuted at its listing price of A$2.10, in the country’s biggest listing since 2010.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was down 1.9 points to 5,581.6 by 0215 GMT. The benchmark slipped 0.1 percent on Friday, but added 0.9 percent for the week.

The benchmark index touched a six-year intraday peak of 5,598.2 on July 23, underpinned by incremental rises on signs of China’s economy regaining momentum, while a strong earnings season in the United States also buoyed investor sentiment.

“Technical resistance around 5,600 might be a litmus test for the health of the reporting season in the immediate future,” said Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets in a note.

“A clear move above this would indicate increasing confidence that next year’s earnings will be good enough to justify another push to post-GFC highs.”

The gold sector buoyed the broader market as bullion prices rebounded after heightened tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine prompted speculators to buy back their bearish bets.

Northern Star Resources Ltd bounced 4.8 percent, while Australia’s top gold miner Newcrest Mining Ltd climbed 1.5 percent. Silver Lake Resources jumped 5.5 percent after reaching an agreement with Newcrest Operations Ltd to acquire Newcrest’s 15 percent Mount Monger joint venture interest.

Clinuvel Pharmaceuticals Ltd rocketed 25.8 percent to A$2.12, its highest since May 2013 after the company received an unsolicited bid for the company from Retrophin Inc.

REA Group Ltd has acquired a 17.2 percent shareholding in iProperty Group, which soared 9.9 percent to four-month highs of A$3.43 on the news.

Leighton Holdings Ltd dropped 2.9 percent after saying its half year net profit fell to A$291.3 million from A$366.2 million, and declared an interim dividend of A$0.57 per share.

Navitas Ltd declined 2.3 percent after reporting its net profit after tax was 31 percent lower to A$51.6 million.

New Zealand stocks were a touch softer, drifting away from the five-week high touched on Friday.

The benchmark NZX-50 index was down 9.2 points or 0.2 percent at 5,185.10, although price gains were outpacing the number of falls.

The market was enlivened by two takeover bids for small-cap stocks.

The major shareholders in private hospital operator Acurity Ltd made an offer to buy out minorities with a cash offer of NZ$6.50 a share, a near 24 percent premium on Friday’s close.

They said the stock was infrequently traded, lacked institutional investors, and faced some significant capital spending. Acurity last traded up 25.3 percent at NZ$6.58.

And vehicle auctioneer Turners Auctions Ltd surged 11.3 percent to NZ$3.06, after financial services company Dorchester Pacific Ltd said it planned to offer NZ$3.00, in cash or paper.

Dorchester, shares in which jumped 9.1 percent to NZ$0.24, said it has already secured a 20 percent stake of another shareholder to take its over all stake to 40.6 percent of Turners. (Editing by Eric Meijer)

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