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Australia: Shares slip on trade uncertainties; gold stocks, miners drag

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares were marginally down on Thursday, led by declines in gold and mining stocks, as investors remained wary of a US-China trade deal happening anytime soon.

The S&P/ASX 200 index slipped nearly 0.3 per cent, or 22.1 points, to 6,688.1 by 0300 GMT. The benchmark fell 0.6 per cent on Wednesday.

US President Donald Trump said a deal to end a nearly 15-month trade war with China could happen sooner than people think and that the Chinese were making big agricultural purchases from the United States, including of beef and pork.

But market experts see a bit of scepticism around a trade deal happening soon in the Asia-Pacific region.

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"A comment that a deal is possible and that China wants to do a deal according to the White House, is not a concrete step towards any resolution and markets are still aware that this is a complicated negotiation and it could take longer," said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

Highlighting heightened uncertainty over the US-China trade negotiations, Mr Trump delivered a stinging rebuke to China's trade practices earlier in the week at the United Nations General Assembly.

The Australian gold index fell nearly 4 per cent and was the worst performer on the benchmark, as political uncertainties in the United States stemming from an impeachment inquiry into President Trump drove investors to the safety of the dollar.

Dacian Gold tumbled as much as nearly 6 per cent, while Westgold Resources fell about 5 per cent to a near two-week high.

The broader mining index fell as much as 0.4 per cent to an over two-week low, dragged by weakness in iron ore and steel prices.

The energy subindex slipped 0.3 per cent, reflecting a decline in oil prices after US crude stockpiles unexpectedly rose and as Saudi Arabia maintained a faster-than-expected recovery of its oil production.

Major oil and gas player Woodside Petroleum shed 0.5 per cent, while Santos was trading almost 1 per cent lower.

The heavy-weighted financial sector slipped almost 0.2 per cent, pushing the benchmark slightly lower, with all the "Big four" banks in the red.

Meanwhile, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was down about 0.2 per cent, or 17.3 points, at 10,844.31, weighed by fall in telecom and healthcare sectors. 

REUTERS