Australia, NZ shares firm on trade talk hopes
* Australia clocks best quarter in almost 10 yrs
* BHP, Rio boost benchmark
* NZ's best quarter since Q4 2015
(Updates to close)
March 29 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed marginally
higher on Friday, led by the mining and healthcare sectors,
while the benchmark posted its best quarterly gain since
September 2009, bolstered by prospects of a breakthrough in
U.S.-China trade talks.
The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.1 percent to finish the
week at a high of 6,180.7, in its fourth straight day of gains.
The benchmark, which has risen 9.5 percent this quarter, ended
0.7 percent higher on Thursday.
Markets were upbeat as U.S. and Chinese officials conduct
talks aimed at resolving the trade dispute between the world's
two largest economies, with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven
Mnuchin on Friday saying he had a "productive working dinner"
the previous night in Beijing.
"It may take a while but traders see signs a meaningful
trade deal is coming," Greg McKenna, strategist and founder of
McKenna Macro said in a client note.
Australian mining stocks, which are highly exposed to
Chinese markets, boosted the benchmark, with industry
heavyweight BHP Ltd rising more than 1 percent to its
highest in nearly eight years, while Rio Tinto advanced
1.8 percent to a peak of over 10 years.
Shares of Fortescue Metals gained about 3 percent
to touch their highest since Feb 2017.
Healthcare stocks also added momentum, with major players
CSL Ltd rising about a percent and Cochlear Ltd
propping up 0.5 percent.
China, Australia's top trading partner, is the world's
second-largest healthcare market.
U.S. officials say China has made proposals on a range of
issues that go further than it has before, including forced
technology transfers and intellectual property security.
Positive expectations around trade talks helped Asian shares
rise on Friday, with MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific
shares outside Japan gaining 0.5 percent, led by
a surge in Chinese equities.
However, broader gains were capped by gold stocks,
which dropped 2.14 percent and were among top losers on the main
index, as improved risk appetite hurt gold's safe-haven appeal.
New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index gained 0.8
percent to end at another record high of 9,844.95. The benchmark
posted its best quarter since December 2015.
The benchmark has risen sharply since the country's central
bank shocked investors on Wednesday by stoking expectations of a
rate cut as its next move.
Local shares of Westpac Banking Corp and Australia
and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd each firmed about one
(Reporting by Nikhil Subba in Bengaluru; Editing by Sam Holmes)
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