October 31, 2017 / 1:06 AM / a year ago

Australia shares set for best month in over 2 yrs; NZ edges higher

Oct. 31 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose on Tuesday, as gains in consumer and energy stocks offset losses in materials ahead of China manufacturing data due later in the day.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.2 percent, or 8.921 points, to 5,928 by 0038 GMT, and was on track for its best month since July, 2015. The benchmark rose 0.3 percent on Monday.

Retailer Woolworths, up as much as 2.1 percent at its highest in over eight weeks, led index gains after reporting a 3.7 percent growth in quarterly sales. Consumer stocks followed suit and contributed the most to index gains.

Woolworths said food sales rose 4.9 percent on a comparable store basis. Rival Wesfarmers Ltd had said a week ago that its comparable food sales rose 0.3 percent.

Energy stocks tracked rising oil prices after Brent oil closed Monday at its highest level since July 2015.

Materials were the only losers on the index, hurt by lower iron ore prices and expectations of weaker Chinese data. China is a key market for Australian resource companies and the most-active iron ore contract for January delivery on the Dalian Commodity Exchange fell 3.3 percent on Monday following the Chinese government enforcement of steel production limits to combat Beijing’s winter fog.

“I think we are going to wait to see what happens to Chinese data and how the banks react. At this point, resources are expecting a weaker PMI and that is trading negatively,” said Mathan Somasundaram, market portfolio strategist at Blue Ocean Equities.

Iron ore major Rio Tinto was down as much as 0.9 percent while mining peer BHP Billiton slipped as much as 0.7 percent.

“If we do not have weakness in the Chinese data, I would expect the banks to be quite positive and pull the market higher. But, everything is pointing to a weaker Chinese data which means we should see a slight pull back in the banks,” added Somasundaram.

Meanwile, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.1 percent, or 9.05 points, to 8,153.03, on strong performance from utilities and telecom stocks.

Telecom major Spark New Zealand Ltd drove the gains, rising as much 1 percent.

Healthcare stocks weighed on the index the most, with Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corporation Ltd trading 0.1 percent lower. (Reporting by Aaron Saldanha in Bengaluru; Editing by Vyas Mohan)

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