April 18, 2019 / 1:14 AM / 4 months ago

Financials stocks boost Australia benchmark; NZ inches down

* All constituents of financial index gain

* Stronger Aussie dollar dents healthcare stocks

* Gold stocks fall on weak prices


By Aby Jose Koilparambil

April 18 (Reuters) - Australia shares rose on Thursday, boosted by financial stocks and positive economic data from China that allayed global growth worries, but broader gains were capped by losses in healthcare stocks, which tracked their Wall Street peers.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.3 percent or 21.4 points to 6,277.30 by 0054 GMT and looked set for a weekly gain of 0.4 percent for the week. Australian markets will be closed on Friday and Monday for the Easter holidays.

China, the world’s second-largest economy and Australia’s biggest trade partner, on Wednesday reported first-quarter GDP year-on-year growth of 6.4 percent, beating expectations of a slowdown.

Financials, the largest sector in the benchmark, advanced up to 0.8 percent to a near six-week high. The sector index was set for its fifth consecutive session of gains.

The ‘Big Four’ banks tacked between 0.2 percent and 0.6 percent.

“There is a growing perception now that the next move in Australian dollar could be up rather than down and that is attracting carry traders to buy the currency. One of the key areas of investment for them are banks,” said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

“The cash component of dividends in the financial sector is looking pretty attractive at the moment. The support (in market today) appears to be based a lot on the Australian dollar,” added McCarthy.

However, healthcare stocks came under pressure, with the sub-index dropping as much as 1.3 percent on a stronger Aussie dollar and also tracking their U.S. peers.

On Wall Street, healthcare stocks tumbled on regulatory worries, with the likes of UnitedHealth Group Inc, Pfizer Inc, Merck & Co Inc and Abbott Laboratories all featuring among the biggest drags on the broader S&P 500.

Gold stocks also felt the heat as the bullion fell, holding near the 2019 lows touched in the previous session, as the upbeat China data encouraged investors to move into riskier assets.

However, the metals and mining index held firm, thanks to gains in index heavyweights and diversified miners BHP Group Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd as the duo put on 0.4 percent and 1.3 percent, respectively, after deep losses in the previous session.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index inched down 0.1 percent to 9,974.96.

Tourism Holdings Ltd was the top percentage loser on the benchmark, falling as much as about 25 percent to its lowest since June 2017 after the firm cut its profit guidance, citing a weak U.S. market. (Reporting by Aby Jose Koilparambil in Bengaluru; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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