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Australia: Shares eke out small gains as miners plunge; New Zealand dips

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares edged up on Thursday, tracking the broader global rally after the U.S central bank signalled possible interest rate cuts although wider gains were capped by a weaker mining sector on concerns about increased iron ore supply.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.2 per cent, or 10.60 points, to 6,658.30 by 0152 GMT, its strongest level since December 2007. The benchmark added 1.2 per cent on Wednesday. Financial stocks firmed 0.3 per cent, tracking a widespread push among global equities after the Federal Reserve hinted at interest rate cuts as early as July due to growing external and domestic economic risks.

While broader sentiment was cheered by the Fed comments, a few heavyweight resources-oriented stocks capped broader gains.

Iron-ore majors BHP Group, Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals Group dropped about 1 per cent to 4 per cent after Brazilian miner Vale SA said it would resume operations at its Brucutu mine within 72 hours, and reaffirmed its 2019 sales guidance.

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Vale's return to form is expected to dispel concerns about a potential supply shortfall in iron ore, and will likely cause iron ore prices to retreat in the near-term. Australian miners had gained substantially this year after concerns over Vale's supply had pushed iron ore prices to record highs.

Rio, which is the second-largest stock on the ASX 200 after BHP, saw its worst session in more than two years following a cut to its guidance on volumes of iron ore it expects to ship from the mineral-rich Pilbara region in Australia.

The metals and mining subindex fell 0.6 per cent.

Fuel retailer Caltex Australia plunged as much as 24 per cent after it said that its operating profit for the six months to June 30 would be less than half of what it was last year, due to slowing economic growth in the country.

Caltex's rival Viva Energy Group dropped about 10 per cent, while the Australian energy subindex fell 1.7 per cent. Caltex was the biggest intraday loser on the ASX 200.

New Zealand stocks retreated slightly as steady first-quarter economic growth pointed to the central bank likely keeping the benchmark interest rate unchanged at its policy meeting next week.

The benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.3 per cent, or 33.17 points, to 10,271.660, with utilities and consumer stocks declining.

Electricity retailer Meridian Energy fell 0.7 per cent, while Fletcher Building dropped 1.7 per cent.

REUTERS