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Australian shares edge higher on mining rally; NZ down

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares edged higher on Wednesday, as a surge in iron ore prices boosted mining stocks, though investors remained cautious ahead of Sino-US trade talks and the Federal Reserve's policy review due later in the day.

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed 0.2 per cent, or 12.50 points, higher at 5,886.70. The benchmark fell 0.5 per cent on Tuesday.

US and China are set to begin a round of trade talks in Washington, the outcome of which is awaited eagerly in Australia, which is China's biggest trade partner.

While comments overnight about easing tensions by Apple CEO Tim Cook alleviated some investor concerns, confidence remains clouded by Washington's criminal charges against China's Huawei earlier this week.

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Adding to investor caution was the Fed's upcoming policy review, at which it is expected to leave rates unchanged. Investors will look for any clues on future policy direction from Fed chairman Jerome Powell's comments.

Locally, the metals and mining sector soared 2.7 per cent and was the biggest boost to the benchmark, posting its best close in seven months.

Mining stocks advanced as Chinese iron ore futures continued their run higher after world's biggest iron ore miner Vale SA announced an output cut following a deadly damn disaster in Brazil.

Global miner BHP Group hit a seven-year high in the session while rival Rio Tinto firmed 4.5 per cent, posting its best close in almost eight years.

Elsewhere, financial stocks slipped 0.3 per cent and were the biggest drags on the benchmark. The "Big Four" banks lost between 0.04 per cent to 0.4 per cent each.

Meanwhile, Qantas Airways Ltd was among top decliners, with its shares falling 5.8 per cent after its codeshare partner Air New Zealand Ltd flagged weaker earnings for 2019.

Across the Tasman sea, Air New Zealand dived 14.4 per cent on the local bourse and was the biggest loser in the benchmark.

New Zealand's S&P/NZX 50 index dropped 0.9 per cent or 80.860 points to finish the session at 8,925.52.

REUTERS