July 20, 2018 / 2:22 AM / 4 months ago

Australian shares supported by healthcare, financials; NZ down

* Healthcare stocks rise as Aussie dlr weakens

* Safety-buying in financials prop up index

* Falling commodity prices weigh on materials

By Nikhil Nainan

July 20 (Reuters) - Australian shares inched higher on Friday, supported by financials and healthcare firms though worries about the European Union slapping retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods and weaker commodity prices kept overall sentiment in check.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.2 percent to 6,275.7 by 0200 GMT. The benchmark rose 0.3 percent on Thursday.

“We are seeing our banks being bought as a safety trade coming out of global Asian markets and that’s a dominating factor that’s supporting our market at this point,” said Mathan Somasundaram, a Blue Ocean Equities market portfolio strategist.

With Officials from the EU Trade Commission, due to arrive in Washington next week for trade talks and the European Union readying their own set of tit-for-tat tariffs on U.S. imports, a level of caution reigned over regional markets.

Financial stocks, the benchmark’s top constituents, pulled its weight with the country’s ‘Big Four’ banks leading the way.

The main financial index rose 0.3 percent, with Westpac Banking the biggest boost with a 0.6 percent gain.

The Australian market has been fairly resilient in the face of intensifying global trade tensions, set to close the week slightly higher and on course for a fourth month of gains.

Healthcare stocks, which rely heavily on exports to the United States and benefits from weakness in the Australian dollar, were the biggest boost to the benchmark.

Index heavyweight CSL rose 1.4 percent. The Aussie dollar was weaker on Friday, after rising on strong jobs data the day before.

In the material space, commodity prices fell overnight on fund selling amid concerns of the spillover effect on demand from the trade dispute between the United States and China.

The mining index fell 1.6 percent, as global miner BHP declined 2 percent.

Bauxite miner Alumina Ltd tumbled nearly 6 percent to an over four-week low as aluminium traded over a percent lower on the London Metal Exchange on Thursday.

Gold stocks extended their declines as the yellow metal sank to a one-year low, as a stronger dollar and rising U.S. interest rates pull investors away from the traditional safe-heaven.

The gold index fell 0.6 percent on Friday, down close to 6 percent for the week, with Newcrest Mining the biggest drag with a 0.5 percent loss.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index dropped 0.3 percent to 8,895.49.

a2 Milk Company, which has fallen all week, and the embattled Fletcher Building weighed on the index, down 1.5 percent and 1.9 percent, respectively. For more individual stocks activity click on (Reporting by Nikhil Kurian Nainan in Bengaluru; additional reporting by Mensholong Lepcha Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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