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Australian shares start year in wary mood, miners lend support

[BENGALURU] Australian shares were little changed in 2019's first trading session on Wednesday, with gains in mining stocks balancing out losses among financials.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was flat at 5,647.0 by 0006 GMT, as the index wavered between positive and negative territory in light trade. Volume was around 38 million shares compared with the 30-day average of nearly 660 million.

The benchmark index tumbled 6.9 per cent over the course of 2018, its worst year since 2011.

Global equities ended the year largely in the red, victims of investor anxiety over trade disputes and slowing economic growth. Asian and European shares had been sluggish for much of the year, and in recent months, US stocks followed suit.

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"I think the markets will do okay. You'll get double-digit returns but overall the market will be much more volatile than it has been over the last couple of years," Mathan Somasundaram, a Blue Ocean Equities market portfolio strategist, said.

Wall Street managed to grind out some gains on Monday, as renewed hopes for a resolution to the US-China trade war provided a glimmer of optimism for investors.

However, the lingering trade tensions and the explosive findings of a powerful inquiry into Australia's financial sector are likely to weigh on investor sentiment in the near term.

"Markets are probably going to take a defensive posture going in (trade talks) because they don't believe anything coming out of the US," Mr Somasundaram said.

Financial stocks, one of the worst hit sectors in 2018, fell half a per cent, with the 'Big Four' down between 0.4 per cent and 1.1 per cent.

The sub-index tumbled nearly 15 per cent last year, its biggest since the global financial crisis in 2008. The inquiry's final report into the sector is expected in February.

Mining stocks, on the other hand, rose 0.3 per cent, helped by a 0.7 per cent gain in top miner BHP Group.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was closed on Wednesday for a public holiday. The index gained about 5 per cent in 2018.

REUTERS