December 24, 2019 / 1:40 AM / a month ago

Australia shares inch up on oil stocks, NZ hits record in holiday-thinned trade

* ASX and NZX to close early on Tuesday

* Higher bullion prices help broader mining sector

* Financials down

By Nikhil Subba

Dec 24 (Reuters) - Australian shares inched marginally higher on Tuesday in thin pre-Christmas trading, with the benchmark helped by a rise in energy stocks on improved oil prices.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.04% to 6,787.80 by 0125 GMT, with trading volumes about a sixth of its 30-day average. The benchmark closed down 0.5% on Monday.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index scaled a fresh record high, with volumes a fifth of its 30-day average.

Australia and New Zealand markets will shut early on Tuesday and will remain closed for the next two days on account of Christmas and Boxing day.

The energy sub-index rose as much as 0.9%, the sector’s best session since Dec. 18, as its major components benefited from higher oil prices.

Brent crude rose 0.4% to $66.39 on Monday after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other top producing nations led by Russia agreed this month to extend and deepen output cuts in the first quarter of 2020.

Oil prices on both sides of the Atlantic have risen over the past three weeks.

Index heavyweight Santos advanced as much as 0.6% while Woodside Petroleum marked its best session in more than a week after rising nearly 2%.

The broader mining sector climbed as much as 0.6% in its best performance since Dec. 16, mostly boosted by stocks of gold miners as bullion prices strengthened on safe haven demand.

Western Australia-based Bellevue Gold Ltd rose as much as nearly 5% to a near one-month peak, while West African Resources, which has operations in Burkina Faso, ascended nearly 4%.

Drugmaker CSL Ltd, a heavyweight in the healthcare sector, rose nearly 1%, while hearing aid maker Cochlear stepped as much as 0.4% higher. This helped the healthcare sub-index rise 0.8%.

Meanwhile, financial stocks, the heaviest section of the Australian benchmark, declined as much as 0.4% to their lowest in nearly two weeks.

Of the ‘big four’ lenders, Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group were trading in the negative territory.

The technology sub-index slipped about 0.2%, dragged lower by software makers Xero Ltd and Bravura Solutions , which shed as much as 2% and 1.4%, respectively.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index strengthened 0.8% or 95 points to an all-time high of 11,642.78.

Retirement home operator Ryman Healthcare rose as much as 4.4% to a life high and was the top gainer on the New Zealand benchmark. Real estate firm Argosy Property also climbed as much as 4.4% to hit a seven-week high. (Reporting by Nikhil Subba in Bengaluru; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

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