June 13, 2019 / 2:55 AM / 13 days ago

Australia shares edge down as oil slump hits energy stocks; NZ flat

* Energy stocks down 2.4%

* Aussie May jobless rate 5.2% vs 5.1% f’cast

* Healthcare stocks rise to over 9-mth high

By Niyati Shetty

June 13 (Reuters) - Australian shares inched lower on Thursday as a slump in oil prices dented energy stocks, offsetting a rise in financials which had gained on heightened expectations of further interest rate cuts by the central bank after bleak employment data.

The S&P/ASX 200 index eased 0.1 points to 6,537.8 by 0241 GMT. The benchmark ended flat on Wednesday.

Energy stocks fell 2.4% as oil prices tumbled 4% overnight after crude inventories rose amid concerns of dimming outlook for global oil.

Oil & gas explorer Woodside Petroleum fell as much as 2.2%, while Oil Search Ltd and Beach Energy lost 2.4% and 5.2%, respectively.

Data released earlier in the day showed Australia’s unemployment rate at 5.2% in May, higher than the 5.1% forecast.

“Small positive for the financials,” said Damian Rooney, director of equity sales at Argonaut, “Certainly the central bank will be watching very carefully and if we see rate cuts by the U.S. Federal Reserve we may well see one more cut by the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA).”

The RBA cut rates to a record low of 1.25% last week, a much anticipated move given Australia’s subdued inflation and weak economic growth.

Financial stocks gained 0.3%, with top lenders Commonwealth Bank of Australia adding up to 0.7% and Westpac Banking Corp advancing 0.8%

Export-driven healthcare stocks, which have large exposure to the U.S. market, were supported by a firmer greenback.

Index heavyweight CSL Ltd rose 3.2% to its highest level in over 9 months, while Cochlear Ltd added 3.1%.

The metals & mining index pulled back from the previous session’s gains, falling 0.7% as disappointing data from China stemmed the rise in copper prices.

Copper slipped as China reported the worst-ever monthly sales drop in the world’s largest vehicle market, while factory inflation slowed in May as faltering manufacturing hit demand.

Global miner BHP Group retreated as much as 1% and Rio Tinto lost 0.8%. Fortescue Metals Group fell up to 2.9%.

Conglomerate Wesfarmers dropped up to 4.8%, its worst intraday session in more than 3 months, after it said price war and subdued consumer sentiment will lead to a fall in full-year earnings at its Kmart discount retail chain.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was flat at 10,204.65.

Dairy products maker a2 Milk Company lost as much as 1.3%, while Auckland International Airport added 0.7%.

Reporting by Niyati Shetty in Bengaluru; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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