Australia: Shares gain as trade optimism lifts mood; New Zealand steady

[BENGALURU] Australian shares advanced on Friday, with technology and utility sectors leading gains, as investors cheered hints of progress in talks to resolve the Sino-US tariff dispute.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was up 0.4 per cent or 27.8 points at 6,705.4, as of 0257 GMT, but was set for its first weekly decline after marking five consecutive weekly gains. The benchmark closed 0.5 per cent lower on Thursday.

Australian stocks are particularly sensitive to developments on the Sino-US trade front, since China is Australia's largest trading partner.

The Chinese commerce ministry said Beijing and Washington are still discussing details of upcoming trade talks in October, and making preparations to ensure "positive progress" is made during the negotiations.

US President Donald Trump had stoked trade hopes on Wednesday when he told reporters the two sides were having "good conversations" and that an agreement "could happen sooner than you think".

The United States and China are preparing for another round of high-level trade talks in early October in Washington to try to find a way out of their nearly 15-month trade war.

"Markets are cautiously optimistic ... there are some signs the trade resolution could be certainly moving in the right direction," said James Tao, market analyst, CommSec.

"There's no major indication that we are necessarily going to reach a deal or be closer to a deal, but that's just the market's interpretation of what we've seen from both sides," Mr Tao added.

The Australian technology and utility sub-indexes advanced more than 1 per cent each. Energy infrastructure firm AusNet Services climbed as much as nearly 2 per cent, while logistics software maker Wisetech Global advanced as much as 2.5 per cent.

The energy sector jumped about 1 per cent, hoisted by firmer oil prices over concerns of a Middle East conflict disrupting supply.

Heavyweights in the energy sector Woodside Petroleum and Santos each rose nearly 1 per cent.

Three of Australia's Big Four lenders were trading higher, lifting the banking subindex about 0.3 per cent.

Meanwhile, stocks in the mining space were dragged 0.2 per cent lower, dented by a drop in copper prices as investors focused on a dismal demand outlook.

Gold stocks dropped 1.3 per cent to their lowest since Sept 19, with the bullion being on track to end the week lower as investors preferred the safety of the dollar in the wake of political uncertainties in the United States.

The dollar was holding near multi-week highs against most major currencies. New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was little changed at 10,821.36.

Electricity retailer Meridian Energy declined about 5 per cent, while Hallenstein Glasson Holdings rose up to 1.7 per cent after the retailer posted a 6.1 per cent rise in its full-year NPAT and a 3.4 per cent climb in annual sales.


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