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Australia shares rise as investors retain hopes for trade deal; NZ flat

[BENGALURU] Australian shares ticked up on Friday on hopes that United States and China still might be able to reach a trade deal, even after Washington hiked tariffs on US$200 billion of Chinese goods.

The S&P/ASX 200 index firmed 0.3 per cent or 15.60 points to 6,310.90 at the close. The benchmark gained 0.4 per cent on Thursday but declined 0.8 per cent for the week.

Beijing said it would strike back for the US tariff increase to 25 per cent from 10 per cent, but did not announce measures immediately.

With trade talks set to resume on Friday, some investors clung to the possibility that there could still be a deal to reverse the tariffs.

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"The reaction (to the tariff hike) is not as drastic as we had imagined it would be," said Tumul Sinha, an equities research analyst at ASR Wealth Advisers.

Telecom stocks led the gains on Australia's benchmark, with TPG Telecom Ltd having its best day in five months.

Analysts and competition lawyers have said that courts may allow the telco's A$15 billion (S$14.3 billion) merger with Vodafone's Australian JV to proceed despite anti-trust regulator opposition.

Risk sentiment in Australia was also helped by the central bank signalling it will consider lowering interest rates if unemployment does not fall further, a major step towards the first policy easing since 2016.

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) also sharply lowered its forecasts for growth and inflation.

Friday's statement "emphasises that the RBA thinks it's highly likely that it will need to follow market pricing with two rate cuts," Bill Evans, chief economist at Westpac Banking Corp, said in a note.

Utility shares also contributed to the benchmark's advance, with the country's biggest power producer AGL Energy Ltd climbing to a two-week peak.

Meanwhile, a jump in oil prices boosted energy stocks which hit a more than one-week high.

Woodside Petroleum Ltd climbed to its highest level since April 29 and Santos Ltd firmed to a more than one-week high.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index ended little changed at 10,099.37. The index added 0.4 per cent for the week.

Synlait Milk Ltd dropped to its lowest since March 21 and was the top percentage loser on the benchmark. 

REUTERS