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Australia: Shares climb as telecom firms gain; New Zealand flat

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[BENGALURU] Australia's benchmark share index rose on Thursday, led by telecom stocks, but gains were capped by concerns over escalating U.S.-China trade tensions.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.4 per cent or 22 points to 6,291.10 by 0129 GMT. The benchmark fell 0.4 per cent on Wednesday.

US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he would be happy to keep tariffs on Chinese imports, while Beijing announced it would retaliate if Washington hikes tariffs as planned on Friday.

Investors are on tenterhooks waiting to see if the two sides can salvage a trade deal and avoid escalation during two days of talks in Washington starting later on Thursday.

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"We've seen this process break down before with NAFTA and Mexico, and that ended with a positive resolution from the US. People are still seeing it as a glass half full," said Chris Weston, head of research at Pepperstone brokerage, referring to the US-China trade tiff. "At the same time, you're not really prepared to put much risk on the table... in case this really does become a much bigger event."

Telecom stock TPG Telecom recovered some of its losses from the previous session when shares took a hit after Australia's anti-trust regulator blocked a A$15 billion (S$14.26 billion) merger between TPG Telecom and Vodafone's Australian joint venture on competition grounds on Wednesday. The firms however said they remained committed to the deal.

Shares of TPG rose 2.3 per cent while telecom firm Telstra also posted an 2.4 per cent gain.

Meanwhile, material stocks 1.1 per cent lower during the session. Shares of Rio Tinto and BHP Group dropped 0.5 per cent and 0.6 per cent, respectively.

Energy stocks climbed 0.9 per cent on the back of rebound in oil futures which gained 1 per cent on Wednesday, boosted by a surprise drawdown in U.S. crude stockpiles.

Shares of Woodside Petroleum and Santos rose 1.1 per cent and 1.4 per cent, respectively.

Earlier in the day, agribusiness company Graincorp reported a loss for the first half of the year and scrapped its dividend for the period, sending its shares down as much as 6.7 per cent lower to a more than five month low.

Elsewhere, shares of Qantas Airways rose as much as 3.6 per cent after it posted a 2.3 per cent rise in third-quarter revenue and forecast record annual revenue.

Across the Tasman sea, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was little changed rising 0.04 per cent or 3.99 points to 10,067.04.

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand lowered the official cash rate to an all-time trough of 1.50 per cent on Wednesday. The central bank governor on Thursday cited a slowing in global economic growth as the reason the bank cut its official cash rate.

Shares of Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corporation gained 1.5 per cent, while Auckland International Airport advanced 0.6 per cent.

REUTERS