December 27, 2019 / 1:48 AM / 2 months ago

Australia shares track Wall Street higher; NZ down

* Firm oil prices lift energy stocks

* Strong gold prices boost mining sector

* Utility sector among top losers

By Nikhil Subba

Dec 27 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose slightly on Friday in light year-end holiday trade, tracking Wall Street’s gains overnight on optimism over an interim U.S.-China trade agreement.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.2% to 6,808.1 by 0036 GMT, after a 0.1% gain on Tuesday. Markets were closed on Wednesday and Thursday on account of Christmas and Boxing Day.

All three Wall Street indexes settled higher on Thursday, boosted by hopes that Washington and Beijing would soon ink a trade deal and gains in Amazon.com after a report signalled robust online holiday sales in the United States.

“What we saw overnight in the United States was a continuation of positive momentum associated with trade optimism,” said Ryan Felsman, senior economist at CommSec.

“A large part of that was on the back of commentary from the Chinese commerce ministry yesterday which basically affirmed that the trade deal with the U.S. would be signed in January.”

Increased optimism over global trade, along with a report of lower U.S. crude inventories, helped oil prices rise to their highest level in more than three months on Thursday.

This helped energy stocks climb 0.4% to a one-week high, with oil and gas major Woodside Petroleum gaining 0.5% to its highest since Dec. 20, while index heavyweight Santos strengthened 0.6%.

Technology stocks rose the most, adding more than 1% in their best intraday percentage gain since Dec. 17. Nearmap advanced about 2%, while Afterpay Ltd rose nearly 5% to an over three-week high.

Gold stocks climbed as much as 2.2% to a four-week peak, as bullion prices surged to a near-two month high on Thursday. This helped the broader mining sector rise more than 1% to its highest since Dec. 18.

Gold producer Resolute Mining jumped nearly 7% to a three-week high, while peer OceanaGold Corp surged as much as 7.2% in its best intraday session since Aug. 26.

Among losers, the utility sector slipped as much as 0.8%, with electricity and gas retailer AGL Energy declining nearly 1%.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index slipped 0.3% to 11,608.95.

Adventure goods retailer Kathmandu Holdings shed 2.4% to hit its lowest in more than a week, while electricity retailer Mercury NZ lost nearly 3% in its biggest intraday drop since Nov. 26. (Reporting by Nikhil Subba in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)

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