* Financial stocks boost benchmark
* Wesfarmers falls on weak H1 department store unit’s earnings outlook
By Shriya Ramakrishnan
Jan 14 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose modestly on Monday, with financials leading gains, but a slump in retail giant Wesfarmers kept the benchmark in check.
The S&P/ASX 200 index advanced 0.3 percent or 18.50 points to 5,793.10 by 0110 GMT. The benchmark fell 0.4 percent on Friday.
“In the short term, it does look like there is ongoing relief from the bearishness we have seen around the global outlook,” said Michael McCarthy, Chief Market Strategist at CMC Markets said.
Global equity markets, which were roiled by concerns about slackening global growth and the Sino-U.S. trade war in 2018, have recovered some ground in January, fuelled by signs of progress in talks between the world’s two largest economies, robust U.S. economic data and a dovish turn of the U.S. Federal Reserve.
Investors were awaiting trade data from China later in the day, with recent signs of a slowdown in Australia’s biggest trading partner hurting risk appetite globally.
Sources told Reuters last week China’s government is planning to lower its 2019 economic growth target.
Locally, the financial sector, which consists of some of the world’s most profitable banks, climbed 0.8 percent and was the top boost to the benchmark.
Westpac Banking Corp gained 0.7 percent even as a senior executive of the No.2 lender said country’s big banks may struggle to raise the amount of extra capital they require under new rules proposed by the country’s banking regulator.
The rest of the country’s “big four” firmed between 0.6 percent and 1 percent.
Australian telecom giant Telstra Corporation rose as much as 1.7 percent, while TPG Telecom gained as much as 4.8 percent.
Bucking the trend, energy stocks were in the red, shedding nearly 0.5 percent, as oil prices fell nearly 2 percent amid worries about a global economic slowdown.
Meanwhile, shares of conglomerate Wesfarmers dipped as much as 3.5 percent to a near five-week low after it flagged a decline in earnings at its department store unit, hurt by a slowdown in sales at Kmart.
Wesfarmers, which was among the top drags on the benchmark, also said it was likely to record a gain of at least A$3 billion ($2.16 billion) from a spree of disposals that includes a spinoff of the country’s second-biggest grocery chain, Coles Group.
Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was flat at 8,960.39.
Industrial and utility stocks led losses, with Air New Zealand falling 0.8 percent and electricity retailer Meridian Energy slipping 0.8 percent.
$1 = 1.3870 Australian dollars Reporting by Shriya Ramakrishnan in Bengaluru; Editing by Kim Coghill