SYDNEY May 28 (Reuters) - Australian shares are seen starting off slightly firmer on Wednesday, supported by a rise in metals prices and yet another record-close for the S&P 500.
* Local share price index futures edged up 0.1 percent, a 21.3-point premium to the underlying S&P/ASX 200 index close. The benchmark finished a choppy session flat on Tuesday.
* New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index added 0.3 percent in early trade.
* U.S. stocks rose on Tuesday as the S&P 500 scored a second straight record close, buoyed by the latest round of merger activity and as expectations for rate cuts by the European Central Bank stoked investors' appetite for equities.
* Nickel was underpinned on Tuesday after rioting at a Vale mine in New Caledonia intensified worries over supply shortages, while copper hit its highest level in nearly three months on demand recovery hopes. Copper edged higher while Gold fell 2 percent.
* Chinese steel and iron ore futures extended gains, steadying after steep price falls in recent weeks amid a pick-up in spot purchases of the raw material, although traders said the upside appears limited.
* Rio Tinto , the world's second-largest diversified miner, said on Tuesday it had appointed an oil industry executive as the new head of its aluminium business, starting from June 1.
* Australia's approaching winter is likely to be warmer and drier than normal in many regions as climate models point to a developing El Niño phenomenon, the Bureau of Meteorology said on Wednesday.
* Fonterra, the world's largest dairy exporter said that a significant rise in global dairy prices could trim demand for milk formula and other dairy products in China, its biggest customer.
* Firms linked to the construction sector may get a steer when the Australian Bureau of Statistics' quarterly report on construction is released later in the day. ----------------------MARKET SNAPSHOT @ 2300 GMT ------------
INSTRUMENT LAST PCT CHG NET CHG S&P 500 1911.91 0.6% 11.380 USD/JPY 101.96 -0.01% -0.010 10-YR US TSY YLD 2.5178 -- 0.000 SPOT GOLD 1263.66 0.02% 0.270 US CRUDE 104.08 -0.03% -0.030 DOW JONES 16675.50 0.42% 69.23 ASIA ADRS 144.87 0.25% 0.36 -------------------------------------------------------------
* S&P 500 ends at record on mergers, ECB; small caps rise * Oil slips on profit taking but supported by Ukraine * Gold slips 2 pct on S&P rally, technicals; platinum falls * Nickel firm on unrest at New Caledonia mine
For a digest of the day's business stories in Australian newspapers, double click on
(Australia/New Zealand bureaux; +61 2 9373 1800/+64 4 471 4234)
(Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by)