Australia shares set for sharp weekly decline as recession fears grow

* Financials helps push the benchmark higher * New Zealand set for first weekly loss since June By Nikhil Nainan Aug 16 () – Australian shares were little changed on Friday as recession fears offset the boost from financial stocks with the benchmark on track to post its third straight week of declines. Investor caution has prevailed after a torrid week for markets, marked by an escalation in Sino-U.S. trade tensions and the worrying inversion of the U.S. bond yield curve, which is seen as a sign of looming recession. The S&P/ASX 200 index inched up 0.1%, or 8 points, to 6,416 by 0145 GMT. It is, however, set for its third week of losses, having shed almost 400 points over this period. Financials, which make up the heaviest weightage on the benchmark, helped drive gains. Three of the country’s “Big Four” banks – Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Westpac Banking Corp and National Australia Bank – advanced 0.4% to 0.7%. Australia and New Zealand Banking Group wavered between positive and negative territory. The no. 4 lender reported a rise in impaired assets in the third quarter but said loan applications rose as it eased lending norms. Consumer-focused companies such as Woolworths and Wesfarmers gained 1.3% and 0.8%, respectively. Australian miners, which tend to be hit hard by trade uncertainty, were mixed on Friday. The mining sub-index slipped 0.3%, with heavyweights BHP Group and Rio Tinto both weaker. Meanwhile, safehaven gold stocks clawed back Thursday’s gain with the gold index off 1.1%. Newcrest Mining fell 0.8%. It had earlier reported a rise in annual profit on the back of robust output. In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was set for its first weekly loss since the first week of June. It fell 0.4% on Friday to 10,666.51. Infratil and a2 Milk fell 1.5% and 1%, respectively. For more individual stocks activity click on (Reporting by Nikhil Kurian Nainan in Bengaluru; Editing by Sam Holmes)Our Standards:The Thomson Trust Principles.