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Australia: Shares edge up despite nagging US-China trade worries; New Zealand up

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares picked up on Friday, as positive sentiment emanating from technology-led gains on Wall Street filtered through, despite worries over how a looming trade war between the United States and China could hurt the Australian economy.

Heavyweight sectors, notably materials, kept a lid on the advance as China is Australia's biggest market, and any downturn in demand would hit exporters hard.

Predominantly defensive sectors helped steer the S&P/ASX 200 index up 0.1 per cent to 6,247.3 by 0200 GMT.

The benchmark fell 0.6 per cent on Thursday, and is set to fall for the week.

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James McGlew, executive director of corporate stockbroking at Argonaut said "there are these lingering concerns with regards to the rhetoric on the trade situation with the US and China and this is causing people to be seated on the sidelines at the moment."

For now the weakness in the Australian dollar due to the fears of a trade war has helped some exporter-driven sectors.

Healthcare stocks provided the biggest boost to the market, with index heavyweight and biotherapeutics firm CSL the biggest lift, up 1.4 per cent.

"The Australian dollar is helping our exporters. A large amount of CSL's revenue is from offshore," McGlew said.

Tech stocks on Wall Street were galvanised by Apple shares becoming the first traded US company to top US$1 trillion in market cap, which supported Australian peers.

Energy stocks took heart from an overnight rally in oil prices, after a report suggested a drop in US crude inventories.

Woodside Petroleum and Origin Energy rose 0.9 per cent and 1.6 per cent, respectively.

On the other side, Rio Tinto extended its declines after half-yearly earnings posted on Wednesday disappointed investors.

Miners in general were weighed down by weaker metals prices and the trade tensions between the United States and China, which fuelled uncertainty over demand.

Shares of BHP were slightly lower as a strike threat at its Escondida copper mine in Chile deterred investors.

The workers union has given the company till August 6 to come up with a better pay offer.

Meanwhile, financial stocks declined with Commonwealth Bank of Australia dropping over 1 per cent to a one-month low, and it is set to extend falls for the entire week.

News that a2 Milk Company would increase its investment in Synlait Milk helped drive the New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index up 0.4 per cent or 35.12 points to 8,884.28.

a2 Milk said it would buy an additional 8.2 per cent stake in Synlait for about NZ$161.8 million (S$149 million) from Japan's Mitsui & Co, which saw both New Zealand companies share prices jump.

Synlait rose as much as 4.7 per cent, while a2 Milk gained as much as 2.4 per cent, with the deal coming just a month after Synlait extended its milk supply deal with a2 Milk by two years.

REUTERS