* Financials boost benchmark index
* Miners supported by higher iron ore prices
* Synlait Milk dents NZ benchmark after FY profit miss (Updates to close)
By Nikhil Subba
Sept 12 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed higher on Thursday, led by financials, as signs of a de-escalation in the Sino-U.S. trade dispute lifted risk sentiment, while investors hoped the European Central Bank (ECB) will dole out stimulus measures.
The S&P/ASX 200 index advanced 0.3% to 6,654.90 at the close of trade. The benchmark closed 0.4% higher on Wednesday.
In a symbolic gesture, U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to delay an additional hike in tariffs on Chinese goods due in October by two weeks, after China announced tariff exemptions for a basket of U.S. goods, just ahead of fresh talks scheduled for early October.
There are “rising hopes that the upcoming U.S.-China trade talks will be off to a good start with the recent de-escalating moves,” OCBC analysts said in a note to clients.
The ECB is widely expected to announce a rate cut and monetary stimulus, following its meeting later in the day, as a precursor to advent global quantitative easing.
Financial stocks, which constitute over one-third of the domestic benchmark, climbed 0.3% to their highest in nearly six weeks.
“Any glimpse of peace in the U.S.-China trade war can be explained as a positive for equities, including the banks,” said Marc Kennis, principal of Pitt Street Research.
All the “Big Four” banks inched upward, with the country’s largest lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia ending the session almost 1% firmer at a 5-1/2-week high.
In the mining space, iron ore miner Fortescue Metals’ 2.2% climb provided much boost to the industry index , which advanced 0.5%.
The rise was fuelled by higher iron ore prices, which increased to a five-week peak, in anticipation of some restocking demand for the steelmaking raw material ahead of holidays in China.
Local gains on the benchmark were capped by a 1.3% fall in the energy index, with Whitehaven Coal Ltd down 3.7% at close, and oil and gas company Woodside Petroleum ending about 2% lower.
Technology stocks erased earlier gains to finish marginally lower. Data solutions provider Appen Ltd ended 2% lower, while software maker Bravura Solutions Ltd slid nearly 6% to close at a near three-week low.
New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index dipped 0.2% to finish the session at 10,905.06, with fuel retailer Z Energy Ltd and Synlait Milk as top losers.
Synlait Milk shares ended almost 10% lower after the dairy processing company’s annual net profit fell short of expectations as a revised pricing deal with its branding partner A2 Milk resulted in lower margins. (Reporting by Nikhil Subba in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)