January 10, 2019 / 6:28 AM / 6 months ago

Australia shares end higher on last minute buying; NZ down

* Financials and materials drive index higher

* Continued buying may push ASX above resistance level- Analyst (Updates to close)

By Rashmi Ashok

Jan 10 (Reuters) - Australian shares ended higher on Thursday after trading in a tight range for most of the session, as a burst of late buying after the bell propped up large cap stocks, boosting the index.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was little changed in late trade but rose 0.3 percent or 17 points to 5,795.30 at the close of trade. The benchmark had gained nearly 1 percent on Wednesday.

“There was some buying in the post market option, mainly the large cap stocks leading the drive... materials and financials spaces added about 0.3 percent,” said Kyle Rodda, market analyst at IG Markets. “In the post-market option you get some very large institutional players looking to get some exposure to the ASX... and the market was at a level that they saw as attractive.”

The financial sub-index which accounts for a big number of the large cap stocks rose 0.2 percent. Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd rose 0.6 percent while Westpac Banking Corp and Commonwealth Bank of Australia also ticked up.

The metals and mining index jumped 0.8 percent, with Rio Tinto Ltd edging higher while Newcrest Mining added 1.8 percent.

Meanwhile, the world’s biggest listed miner BHP Group which had slumped as much as 5 percent in early trade to weigh on the index, recovered slightly to close 3.4 percent lower.

Rodda also added that sustained buying by large investors may help push the index past the critical 5,800 resistance level in the coming sessions.

Gold stocks surged 2.4 percent boosted by a jump in gold prices, with Saracen Mineral Holdings rising 2 percent and AngloGold Ashanti Ltd among top gainers, up 5.6 percent.

Growing expectations that the U.S. Federal Reserve will pause its rate tightening cycle this year weighed on the dollar, boosting the attraction of gold as a safe-haven investment.

Energy stocks continued their rally, up about 0.7 percent with Woodside Petroleum Ltd up 0.6 percent and Oil Search Ltd firming 1.5 percent.

Healthcare stocks also rose, boosted by gains in stocks of CSL Ltd and Cochlear Ltd.

However, investors were cautious as they awaited more detail on the outcome of talks in Beijing between U.S. and Chinese officials aimed at de-escalating a damaging trade war.

Subdued by that caution, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index closed 0.3 percent, or 28.06 points, lower at 8,919.16.

Benchmark heavyweight a2 Milk Company Ltd fell 1.1 percent while outdoor equipment retailer Kathmandu Holdings Ltd lost 1.3 percent.

Reporting by Rashmi Ashok in Bengaluru; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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