March 4, 2019 / 6:23 AM / 3 months ago

Australia, NZ shares advance on signs of Sino-U.S. trade progress

* Aussie stocks extend gains for 4th straight session

* Financial sub-index hits near 5-mth closing high

* NZ benchmark posts record high (Updates to close)

March 4 (Reuters) - Australian shares climbed to a near six-month closing high on Monday as investors cheered a possible end to the Sino-U.S. trade conflict, which helped stocks of China-focused exporters such as miners.

Supporting global investor confidence was a Wall Street Journal report that the world’s two largest economies could reach a formal trade agreement at a summit around March 27.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.4 percent, or 24.7 points, to 6,217.40 points, extending gains for a fourth straight session. The benchmark advanced 0.4 percent on Friday.

Metals and mining shares rose 0.7 percent, with index heavyweights BHP Group Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd closing 1.2 percent and 1.6 percent up, respectively. China is the biggest importer of Australian raw materials.

The financial index ended flat, but touched a near five-month closing high.

Lender Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd slipped 0.6 percent while National Australia Bank Ltd added 0.2 percent.

Optimism about Sino-U.S. trade relations helped offset worries about the Australian economy, after businesses reported only meagre growth in profits and wages for the fourth quarter of last year.

Analysts expect the country’s gross domestic product to have expanded only marginally in the December quarter. GDP data is due on Wednesday.

Bucking the bullish trend, the gold sub-index declined 3.3 percent to a close at a more than one-month low. Gold miners Newcrest Mining Ltd fell 2.7 percent, while peer Evolution Mining Ltd retreated 5.6 percent.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index closed at a record high, climbing 0.7 percent, or 61.81 points, to 9,413.49.

a2 Milk Company Ltd rose 3.1 percent and was the best performer on the index. China is a major market for the company’s infant formula.

Reporting by Niyati Shetty in Bengaluru; Editing by Sam Holmes

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