September 3, 2019 / 7:00 AM / 19 days ago

Australian shares softer on trade worries, NZ hits record high

* RBA stands pat on rates

* Western Areas among top pct gainers

* NZ hits record high (Updates to close)

By Shriya Ramakrishnan

Sept 3 (Reuters) - Australia’s benchmark index ended slightly lower on Tuesday, as persistent worries over U.S.-China trade frictions curbed investor risk appetite.

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed 0.1% lower at 6,573.4, after falling 0.4% on Monday.

The United States began imposing 15% tariffs on a variety of Chinese goods on Sunday and China slapped new duties on U.S. crude oil, the latest escalation in their trade war.

“There is not a lot of commitment in terms of volumes because of the continuing concerns about the trade outlook,” Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets said.

“We are seeing caution not just in Australia but across the region today, once again reflecting the fact that we are expecting news on the trade front fairly soon.”

Meanwhile, Australia’s central bank kept its cash rate at an all-time low of 1%, in a widely expected decision, though it left the door ajar for further cuts.

Gains among nickel miners on upbeat prices of the metal, after top supplier Indonesia said it would ban exports of nickel ore from next year, helped limit losses in the mining sub-index which closed 0.1% lower.

Nickel miner Western Areas was among the top percentage gainers on the benchmark, rising as much as 12% while its peer Independence Group NL gained as much as 2.9%.

Financial stocks fell 0.1% after trading in positive territory for most of the session, with the country’s top lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia down 0.2%.

Weakness in global crude prices pressured energy firms . Woodside Petroleum, the country’s biggest oil and gas explorer, eased 0.8% while Santos fell 0.7%.

Bucking the sector trend, Papua New Guinea-focused Oil Search gained 2%, after PNG’s Petroleum Minister Kerenga Kua cleared a gas deal, that is part of a $13 billion plan to expand gas exports, in which Oil Search is a partner with French oil major Total SA.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index finished 1.4% higher to hit a record high at 10,953.92, buoyed by Meridian Energy and Contact Energy which gained 5% each. (Reporting by Shriya Ramakrishnan in Bengaluru, Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

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