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Australian shares flat, resources offset losses in financials

FILE PHOTO: Pedestrians are reflected in a window in front of a board displaying stock prices at the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) in Sydney, Australia, February 9, 2018. REUTERS/David Gray/File Photo

(Reuters) - Australian shares ended little changed on Monday, with the resource sector buoyed by expectations Washington and Beijing were close to finalising a trade deal, which helped outweigh weakness in financials.

Officials from the United States and China said they were "close to finalising" some parts of a trade agreement after high-level telephone discussions on Friday.

However, encouraging signals in the past have proved short-lived and continuing uncertainties kept investors cautious.

The S&P/ASX 200 index <.AXJO> closed at 6,740.7, its highest since the start of the month. The benchmark had firmed 0.7% on Friday.

Global miner BHP Group <BHP.AX> and iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group <FMG.AX> were the biggest gainers, up 1.1% and 2.2%, respectively.

China is Australia's largest trading partner, with miners especially exposed given China's huge appetite for commodities to meet its growth needs.

Energy stocks also supported the market, despite a drop in oil prices.

Woodside Petroleum Ltd <WPL.AX>, the country's largest oil and gas company, traded marginally higher, while smaller rival Beach Energy <BPT.AX> climbed 2.1%.

Fuel refiner Viva Energy Group Ltd <VEA.AX> rose as much as 4.1% after posting a sharp increase in quarterly refining margins from the preceding quarter.

Among the banks, Commonwealth Bank of Australia <CBA.AX>, National Australia Bank <NAB.AX> and Westpac Banking Corp <WBC.AX> all ended lower, while Australia and New Zealand Banking Group <ANZ.AX> was flat.

An Australian court found that Westpac staff inappropriately gave personal financial advice when marketing pension funds, overturning an earlier ruling.

Meanwhile, metals and electronics recycler Sims Metal Management <SGM.AX> was down 8.8% after forecasting an underlying core earnings loss for the first half due to weakness in scrap prices.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index<.NZ50> remained closed for Labour Day. The index closed 0.4% lower on Friday.

(Reporting by Nikhil Kurian Nainan in Bengaluru; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

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