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Australia: Shares edge up ahead of China data; New Zealand gains

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares rose in thin trade on Monday, driven by banks and energy stocks, though investors were cautious ahead of key economic data from China which could point to a further slowdown in the world's second-largest economy.

The S&P/ASX 200 index advanced 0.4 per cent, or 23.6 points, to fresh two-month highs of 5,903.2 by 0100 GMT. The benchmark climbed 0.5 per cent on Friday.

China, Australia's largest trading partner will release its fourth-quarter and 2018 GDP figures, along with December factory output, retail sales and fixed-asset investment later in the day.

Analysts polled by Reuters expect economic growth in China cooled to its slowest in 28 years in 2018 amid weakening domestic demand and bruising US tariffs.

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The months-long trade spat has hurt global risk appetite, stoked concerns of an economic slowdown and weighed on profits for firms ranging from Apple Inc to big carmakers.

"(Data from China) may change the course of trading, either supercharging the optimism if they come in higher than expected, or cutting short the rally that we've seen so far if they come in lower than expected," Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets said.

Financial stocks, the benchmark's largest constituent, rose 0.4 per cent and scaled nearly two-month highs.

Top investment bank Macquarie Group gained as much as 1 per cent, while Insurance Australia Group firmed 1.3 per cent.

Energy stocks climbed 1 per cent and were poised for a fifth session of gains as oil prices surged after Opec detailed specifics on production cuts to ease global oversupply.

Santos and Oil Search, due to report quarterly production this week, rose 1.9 per cent and 0.3 per cent, respectively.

Meanwhile, shares of global mining giant BHP Group climbed 0.6 per cent to a more than 3-month high ahead of the release of its second-quarter production figures on Tuesday.

The wider metals and mining index traded 0.2 per cent lower.

China is the top buyer of Australia's commodities exports and a slowdown there could hurt Australian mining firms.

Bucking the trend, gold stocks dropped 2.2 per cent, as a studier US dollar and stronger equity markets dented the appeal of the precious metal.

Saracen Mineral Holdings and St Barbara pulled down the sub-index, falling between 5.3 per cent and 4.6 per cent.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.3 per cent, or 30.52 points, to 9,128.23.

Industrial and healthcare stocks led gains, with Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corp climbing 1.4 per cent, while Auckland International Airport strengthened 0.7 per cent to a near four-week high.

REUTERS