August 22, 2016 / 3:21 AM / a year ago

Australia shares edge up amid mixed earnings, Fed uncertainty

SYDNEY/WELLINGTON, Aug 22 (Reuters) - Australian shares edged higher on Monday as investors digested a mixed bag of earnings results and the possibility of a United States rate hike before long, while New Zealand stocks continued their ascent to record highs.

Companies in Australia were showing they could cope with a mining downturn. But recent comments from Federal Reserve policymakers indicating a rate hike could come at a September policy meeting kept investors cautious.

After see-sawing between positive and negative territory, the S&P/ASX 200 index was up 5.817 points, or 0.11 percent, at 0234 GMT. The benchmark was 0.1 percent lower last week, the first with annual earnings results.

"Volumes are low so it indicates that the largest players are sitting on their hands until they've had a chance to look across the full company landscape," said Michael McCarthy, chief strategist at CMC Markets.

"The hedges are in place, and now we're waiting for more information."

Iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group fell 0.9 percent despite tripling annual profit and upping its final dividend. But that was better than bigger rivals BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, both down 1 percent.

Steelmaker Bluescope Steel rose 4 percent after doubling its annual profit.

Energy producers also fell after the oil price retreated overnight. Santos, which reported its worst annual result in years the previous week, was down nearly 6 percent, while Oil Search fell 2 percent and Origin Energy lost 1.7 percent.

Bank stocks were mostly up, with Westpac Banking Corp adding 0.2 percent, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group 0.1 percent and National Australia Bank advancing 0.2 percent. Commonwealth Bank of Australia slipped 0.2 percent.

Health insurer NIB Holdings skidded nearly 4 percent after its annual result, while jobs advertiser Seek held steady despite a 4 percent profit fall.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index hit record levels for a second straight day, up 15.36 points or 0.2 percent to 7,420.61. Earlier, it hit a record intraday high of 7,443.0.

Heartland Bank led gains, rising 2.6 percent. Air New Zealand, which will report full-year earnings on Friday, was up 1.3 percent.

Dairy company A2 Milk rose 0.9 percent and Fletcher Building rose 0.7 percent, as the construction firm continued to rise following its strong full-year results released on Wednesday.

Retirement village operator Summerset lost 0.9 percent while Sky TV fell 0.6 percent.

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Reporting by Byron Kaye and Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Richard Borsuk

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