Australia shares end higher on strong earnings, NZ inches up

(Updates to close)

Aug 22 (Reuters) - Australian shares finished higher on Thursday as upbeat earnings from local firms and U.S. retailers lifted sentiment even as many investors remained anxious about the outlook for economic growth.

Helped by overnight gains on Wall Street, the S&P/ASX 200 index closed up 0.3% at 6,501.80. The benchmark had declined 0.9% on Wednesday following a 2.2% gain over the first two trading sessions of the week.

The solid corporate earnings provide much-needed relief to financial markets which have been roiled over recent months by the Sino-U.S. trade war and the broadening economic fallout of the dispute.

The energy sector, which has put on more than 5% so far this week, thanks to stronger oil, led the gains with gas firm Santos Ltd and electricity & gas retailer Origin Energy Ltd anchoring the sub-index's 1.4% gain.

"The push in the market is definitely coming from the oil and gas sector. It has been a bit sold down. The jump is not significant but there is just some recovery happening in the market," said CPS Capital associate director Dale Raynes.

Santos closed 3.5% higher after country's No.2 independent gas producer posted a 89% jump in half-year profit, boosted by its acquisition of Quadrant Energy and strong output from its Cooper Basin fields in South Australia.

Origin Energy finished up 2.4% after it reported a 41.6% rise in its annual underlying profit, helped by robust production at its Australia Pacific LNG project.

Retailer Coles Group ended 2% higher as the announcement of a special dividend along with strong online sales overshadowed an annual profit drop.

Australia's largest airline Qantas Airways Ltd posted a 1.4% gain in a highly volatile session for the stock as investors cheered its A$400 million ($271.00 million) share buyback announcement, putting behind the disappointing earnings results.

Financials, a major benchmark constituent, gained 0.5% with all the 'Big Four' banks eking out gains.

However, the Metals and Mining index lost 0.4%, pulled down mainly by gold stocks, while diversified mining giants BHP Group posted marginal losses.

Miner South32 Ltd closed 4.4% lower after reporting a 25% drop in annual underlying profit.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.1% to 10,725.22, led by energy retailer Mercury NZ Ltd and adventure goods retailer Kathmandu Holdings Ltd, with more than 3% gains each.

($1 = 1.4760 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Aby Jose Koilparambil in Bengaluru; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

2019-08-22 08:34:39

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