April 15, 2019 / 2:09 AM / 8 days ago

Australia shares soften as gold stocks weigh; NZ up

* Financials gain for 2nd consecutive session

* Gold sub-index posts biggest fall in 3 weeks

* Synlait Milk, a2 Milk among top gainers on NZ benchmark

By Aby Jose Koilparambil

April 15 (Reuters) - Australian shares held a soft tone in early trade on Monday, with losses in gold stocks, due to a resurgence in risk appetite and a strong Wall Street, countering gains in financials.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was almost flat at 6,247.40 by 0043 GMT. The benchmark had soared 0.9 percent on Friday, posting its biggest weekly gain in seven.

The market also tread water as investors remained cautious ahead of a shortened trading week where major miners and oil producers are due to report quarterly production figures.

U.S. stocks closed near record highs on Friday after the largest U.S. bank JP Morgan Chase & Co reported strong quarterly numbers that blew past analysts’ estimates, allaying fears for the time being of a decline in corporate earnings this season.

The Australian market had outperformed its Asian peers on Friday, powered by gains in financial stocks after reports that country’s biggest lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia were cutting jobs to boost profitability.

Financials, the largest sector in the benchmark, motored ahead on Monday as well, with all the ‘Big Four’ banks appreciating in the range between 0.5 percent and 1 percent.

However, the jump in risk appetite dented gold, considered a safe-haven asset, with producers of the precious metal slumping.

The ASX gold sub-index slid as much as 2.9 percent posting it biggest intraday fall since March 22, with top firms including Newcrest Mining Ltd and Evolution Mining shedding about 3 percent each.

“A stupefying amount of ink has been spilt on gold markets of late, and while it was encouraging to see gold break above $1,300, the market is prone to a case of jitters above that psychological threshold especially with the global growth recovery and improving risk sentiment supporting U.S. equity markets,” said Stephen Innes, managing partner and head of trading at SPI Asset Management, in a note.

In spite of the slide in gold stocks, the metals and mining index was little changed as the country’s mining behemoths BHP Group and Rio Tinto advanced on higher iron ore and copper prices.

Index heavyweights BHP Group and Rio Tinto gained 0.4 percent and 0.6 percent, respectively, while Fortescue Metals Group, a firm which has largely benefitted from recent global iron ore supply concerns, advanced 1.5 percent.

Iron ore futures in China ended higher on Friday as spot prices hovered near five-year highs amid increased demand from Chinese steelmakers and declining supplies from producers overseas.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index advanced 0.4 percent to 9,809.35 and is poised to post its third successive session of gains.

Dairy firms a2 Milk Co Ltd and Synlait Milk Ltd were among the top percentage gainers on the benchmark, putting on 2 percent and 1.4 percent, respectively. (Reporting by Aby Jose Koilparambil in Bengaluru Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

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