March 9, 2018 / 12:54 AM / 9 months ago

REFILE-Australia shares range-bound; NZ touches 1-week high

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* Financials, healthcare, industrials lead gains in Australia

* Material sector hurt as commodity prices dropped

* NZ hits 1-week high

By Christina Martin

March 9 (Reuters) - Australian shares inched up on Friday as financials led the gains but material stocks put pressure on the index as nagging fears of a global trade war contributed to weakness in commodity prices.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.3 percent, or 19.3 points, to 5,962.2 by 1242 GMT, on track for a third weekly gain in four. The benchmark closed up 0.7 percent on Thursday.

“We’ve got conflicting indicators for Australian shares today... Most of the sectors are in positive territory, with general index buying and financial stocks up modestly,” said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

“At the other end of the spectrum, energy and material sectors are dragging. We’ve seen a very significant downdraft in commodity prices overnight, and it’s those commodity-exposed sectors that are keeping the performance tight.”

Financial stocks edged up as much as 0.5 percent, with Commonwealth Bank of Australia leading the gains, gaining up to 0.7 percent to hit its highest in more than a week.

The other three “Big Four” banks crept up by between 0.1 and 0.3 percent.

Healthcare and industrial stocks also supported Australia’s benchmark index, with Resmed Inc touching more than a five-week high, up as much as 1.5 percent and GWA Group Ltd rising as much as 2.3 percent.

The biggest advancer on the main index was mortgage insurance lender Genworth Mortgage Insurance Australia Ltd , scaling up as much as 6 percent to its highest in over a week.

The material sector slid for a third straight session, down as much as 0.6 percent to a four-week low, as a slip in commodity prices dragged stocks.

Nickel prices slumped on Thursday along with other industrial metals on worries over a potential global trade war curbing economic growth and metals demand.

Chinese steel and iron ore futures tumbled almost 4 percent on Thursday, while oil prices fell and were headed for a second straight weekly drop.

Index heavyweights BHP Billiton Ltd and Rio Tinto fell as much as 1 percent and 0.7 percent, respectively.

BHP hit its lowest in more than 11 weeks.

Gold stocks also dropped as prices of the yellow metal fell, with the gold index down as much as 0.4 percent.

Meanwhile, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.2 percent, or 14.13 points, to 8,372.83, hitting over a one-week intraday high. The index was on track to finish the week higher.

NZX Ltd was the top gainer on the index, rising as much as nearly 2 percent to post its biggest intraday percentage gain in more than one week. (Reporting by Christina Martin in Bengaluru; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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