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Australia: Shares sluggish as Trump-Xi meeting looms; NZ down


[BENGALURU] Australian shares ticked up modestly on Wednesday, supported by gains in material and energy stocks amid a backdrop of cautious trade before a potentially tense meeting between US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping later this week.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.07 per cent, or 3.95 points, to 5,860.50 by 0230 GMT. "Markets are really on hold at the moment," said Ric Spooner, Chief market strategist at CMC markets, adding that investors are looking to catalysts from the Trump-Xi meeting as well as the US earnings season.

Global markets have been on edge ahead of the first face-to-face meeting between the US and Chinese leaders since Mr Trump took office on Jan 20. Trade and security issues are set to figure prominently, with concern also squarely on North Korea, which fired a ballistic missile from its east coast into the sea on Wednesday.

The material index rose 2.2 per cent, with heavyweights BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto rising over 2 per cent.

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Copper prices rallied as China returned from a two-day break to buy up metals following brighter global manufacturing reports.

Oil prices also jumped overnight to near one-month highs. Woodside Petroleum Ltd rose 1.3 per cent.

"Commodity and oil markets have had some support from a strong round of manufacturing PMI data, particularly from Europe, USA, and China, Spooner said.

Gold prices held near one-month highs hit the day before, while China's coking coal futures jumped as much as 7 per cent, as impact of Cyclone Debbie hit supplies at key Australian mines.

Gold miner St Barbara Ltd rose 3.2 per cent, while coal miner Whitehaven Coal Ltd extended its gains, rising 1.2 per cent.

Insurance Australia Group fell 1.9 per cent, after it said that claims from cyclone Debbie will incur a net natural peril claims cost of about A$140 million (S$148 million), increasing its expectation for full year 2017 net natural peril claim costs to A$850 million.

Financial stocks remained under pressure, down 0.4 per cent, with Westpac Banking Corp weighing on the index. Consumer stocks were also in the red, the second biggest drag on the benchmark, with retailer Wesfarmers declining 1.6 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index slipped 0.2 per cent, or 16.55 points, to 7,227.99.

Material and utilities stocks shed the most on the index, with Fletcher Building losing 2.5 per cent, while Meridian Energy Ltd fell 1.4 per cent.

Healthcare stock, Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corp was among the biggest losers, falling more than 1 per cent.