July 20, 2018 / 6:49 AM / 4 months ago

Australian shares propped up by financials amid global trade tensions; NZ up

* Weak commodity prices hurt material stocks

* Financials pull the index higher

* Gold stocks down nearly 6 pct this week (Updates to close)

By Nikhil Nainan

July 20 (Reuters) - Australian shares ended the week higher thanks to gains in financials, even as Friday’s session was buffeted by an earlier slide in the Chinese yuan and concerns over escalating global trade tensions.

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed up 23.2 points, or 0.37 percent to 6,285.9, and tacked on 0.3 percent for the week. The benchmark rose 0.3 percent on Thursday.

A volatile day of trade for the yuan stoked fears that Beijing’s currency management could become the next flash point in the trade dispute with the United States. The Chinese currency managed to bounce in afternoon trade on suspected selling of dollars by state-owned banks.

Investors are keeping a wary eye on the European Union as it readies a set of retaliatory tariffs on U.S. imports. Officials from the EU Trade Commission are due to arrive in Washington next week for trade talks.

“We are seeing our banks being bought as a safety trade coming out of global Asian markets and that’s a dominating factor that’s supporting our market at this point,” said Mathan Somasundaram, a Blue Ocean Equities market portfolio strategist.

Financials, comprising of the benchmark’s top constituents, drove the index higher, with the ‘Big Four’ banks pulling their weight.

The main financial index climbed 0.5 percent, with Commonwealth Bank of Australia up 0.7 percent.

The Australian market has been fairly resilient in the face of intensifying global trade tensions, and has risen over the last few months even as many regional markets took a hit.

Commodity prices came under pressure overnight from fund selling amid concerns the trade dispute between the United States and China will spillover into lower demand for metals.

Bearing the brunt of the weakness in prices, the mining index slid 1.5 percent, with BHP the biggest drag with a 2 percent loss.

Gold prices slipped for a sixth session and hovered near a one-year low, as a stronger dollar and rising U.S. interest rates pull investors away from the traditional safe-heaven.

That has led to heavy selling of gold stocks, with the main index down nearly 6 percent this week.

Saracen Mineral Holdings and Northern Star Resources led the losses on Friday, down 3.9 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index ended the week on a positive note, reversing losses earlier in the session to close 0.4 percent, or 37.95 points higher at 8,955.54.

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corporation Ltd and Ryman Healthcare led the gains, up around 2 percent each. (Reporting by Nikhil Kurian Nainan in Bengaluru, additional reporting by Mensholong Lepcha Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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