Australia shares off 2-year low in choppy trade; NZ up

* Healthcare stocks bounce back

* Oil-related shares take a hit

* QBE Insurance top loser in finance index

By Aby Jose Koilparambil

Dec 11 (Reuters) - Australian shares on Tuesday hovered not far from nearly two-year lows struck the previous day due to Sino-U.S. trade war worries, with gains in the healthcare sector offset by losses in energy stocks.

The S&P/ASX 200 index pared early gains to trade 0.04 percent up at 5,554.60 by 0100 GMT after rising as much as 0.6 percent earlier in the session.

The benchmark closed near lows hit in December 2016 on Monday, as investors turned risk-averse on concerns the world's two largest economies may not resolve their trade differences within a 90-day negotiating period and slowing global growth.

Wall Street ended a volatile session on Monday slightly higher with help from technology stocks, although uncertainty over Brexit kept investors on edge about global growth.

"It is a bounce-back (in the Australian market). We are expecting a lot of volatility in December, taking a lead from the U.S. markets. The U.S. market was quite choppy yesterday," said Caleb Weng, research analyst at Australian Stock Report.

Persistent tensions between the United States and China and the ensuing worries over global growth have rankled financial markets, particularly in the final quarter of the year.

Australian shares have lost more than 10 percent so far this quarter, well on course for its steepest quarterly drop since the period ended Sept. 30, 2011.

Healthcare shares recovered, gaining as much as 1.9 percent after losing about 3.8 percent on Monday.

Index heavyweight Cochlear Ltd and Nanonosonics Ltd were the top gainers among healthcare firms, advancing more than two percent each.

Metals and mining stocks that rose slightly on Monday on the back of a strong gold-related shares, kept their momentum, climbing as much as 1.1 percent. Diversified mining behemoths BHP Group and Rio Tinto put on up to 1.3 percent and 1 percent, respectively.

The energy index, however, fell as much as 0.8 percent in morning trade after ending Monday's session about 0.8 percent lower.

Oil-related stocks trimmed gains in the energy stock index, with WorleyParsons, Oil Search and Woodside Petroleum trading lower on weaker oil prices.

The financial index that closed more than 3 percent lower on Monday, seesawed between losses and gains with the top four lenders in the red.

QBE Insurance Group Ltd was the top percentage loser on the financial index after Australia's third-largest listed insurer by market capitalisation revealed a three-year operational efficiency programme targeting net cost savings of A$130 million ($93.6 million) in 2021.

"There is always the execution risk the market is placing. The costs savings (announced by QBE) will obviously outweigh the implementation costs. But there is always the risk of the execution not happening," said Weng.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index bounced back sharply from Monday's losses to trade 0.3 percent higher at 8,686.07.

Fast-food group Restaurant Brands New Zealand Ltd was among top gainers, rising as much as 3 percent, after it said it inked a deal to expand "Tex-Mex" food chain Taco Bell's brand in New Zealand and in Australia's New South Wales.

(Reporting by Aby Jose Koilparambil in Bengaluru Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

2018-12-11 03:43:24

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