January 2, 2020 / 6:17 AM / 23 days ago

Australian shares inch higher on energy, tech stocks

* Afterpay gets lending licence in California

* Energy stocks rise on firm oil prices

* NZ markets closed for public holiday (Updates to close)

Jan 2 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed slightly higher on Thursday, helped by energy and tech stocks, in thin trading volumes as investors returned from the New Year’s Day holiday.

The S&P/ASX 200 index climbed 0.1% to 6,690.60 on the first trading session of the year after a 1.8% drop on Tuesday. Markets were closed on Wednesday.

Investor sentiment was aided by news that the United States and China would sign a trade pact soon after a year of on-and-off negotiations between the world’s two top economies.

The Aussie energy sub-index gained 0.2%, with sector heavyweights Santos Ltd and Woodside Petroleum Ltd adding 0.5% and 0.3%, respectively.

Oil prices marked the biggest annual gain in three years in 2019, supported by a thaw in the prolonged dispute between Washington and Beijing and an output cut pledged by OPEC and its allies.

Meanwhile, Afterpay Ltd advanced 4.6% and was the fourth-biggest percentage gainer on the benchmark, after the buy-now-pay-later company said California approved its lending licence.

That came as California rejected a similar application for Sezzle Inc, Afterpay’s competitor, knocking the stock down 20.3% to its lowest since its July debut.

Afterpay’s gain helped the technology sector climb 0.3%.

Telecom stocks also rose, with Telstra Corp firming 1.1% in its best session in over two weeks.

The mining sector, which has a heavy bearing on the main index, inched higher. BHP Group Ltd, the world’s biggest miner, gained 0.1%, while rival Rio Tinto Ltd rose 0.8%.

The gold sub-index dipped 0.8%, with Perseus Mining Ltd fell 2.6%, while Resolute Mining Ltd dropped 2%.

Financials ended flat, with all of the Big Four banks closing in the red.

New Zealand markets were closed for a public holiday. (Reporting by Anushka Trivedi in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)

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