* Focus on U.S. and China inflation data this week
* Miners drag benchmark
* NZ shares fall
Aug 8 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed little changed on Tuesday, relinquishing a substantial portion of early gains as investors remained on edge as caution prevailed ahead of inflation data from major economies.
The S&P/ASX 200 index ended flat, up 0.03% at 7311.1 points. The benchmark fell 0.2% on Monday.
Global investors are keenly awaiting inflation readings from China on Wednesday and the U.S. on Thursday, expecting the two biggest economies in the world to deliver an updated outlook on the health of the global economy.
Investors await U.S. consumer price data to assess the U.S. Federal Reserve's monetary policy direction following renewed concerns, triggered by Friday's employment report, that the central bank might maintain higher rates for an extended period.
Trade data from China showed imports contracted at 12.4% in July, missing forecasts of a drop of 5%, while exports fell 14.5%, compared with a fall of 12.5% tipped by economists.
"A disappointing session for the ASX200, giving up a good chunk of its early gains on a combination of dour economic data and soft earnings reports," said Tony Sycamore, an analyst with IG.
"Adding to today's headwinds...(was) trade data from China... A warning shot across the bow ahead of the release of Chinese inflation data tomorrow," Sycamore said.
In Sydney, James Hardie emerged as the top gainer on the benchmark, ending 14.2% higher, after the Dublin-based firm forecast second-quarter earnings above estimates.
Financials closed flat, giving up a majority of their early gains. Two of the "big four" banks closed modestly higher ahead of the release of Commonwealth Bank of Australia's fiscal 2023 earnings report, due Wednesday.
Export-reliant miners fell 0.6%, with sector heavyweights BHP Group and Rio Tinto skidding between 0.4% and 0.6%.
Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index ended 0.5% lower at 11,868.8 points. (Reporting by Riya Sharma in Bengaluru; Editing by Janane Venkatraman)