March 29, 2019 / 1:10 AM / a month ago

Aussie shares jump, on track for best quarter in nearly 10-yrs; NZ hits record

* Materials account for most of the gains in Australia

* Pilbara top gainer on the benchmark

* NZ hits yet another record high

By Aditya Soni

March 29 (Reuters) - Australian shares advanced on Friday, after a firmer finish on Wall Street, as investors hoped for progress in Sino-U.S. trade talks after a report on positive developments.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.3 percent or 20.30 points to 6,196.40 by 0041 GMT. The benchmark added 0.7 percent on Thursday and was up nearly 10 percent for the quarter, on track for its best quarter since September 2009.

U.S. officials told Reuters on Wednesday that China had made striking proposals in talks on a range of issues, including forced technology transfer, as the countries work to overcome the remaining obstacles to a deal to end their trade war.

“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.

The remarks, coupled with a rise in benchmark U.S. bond yields, revived investor appetite for riskier assets, leading to a jump in U.S. stocks.

World stocks took a beating earlier this week after an inversion in the U.S. yield curve suggested that the world’s biggest economy might be facing trouble ahead.

Mining stocks, whose biggest export market is China, led gains on the benchmark on Friday.

BHP Group Ltd, the country’s biggest listed firm, climbed as much as 0.9 percent to an over seven-and-a-half year high, while rival Rio Tinto Ltd firmed 1.6 percent to its highest since July 2008.

Financials stocks also underpinned the bullish sentiment, with Westpac Banking Corp rising 0.6 percent, while National Australia Bank Ltd strengthened 0.8 percent to an over two-week high.

Lithium miner Pilbara Minerals Ltd built on its strong run in the previous session to climb almost 10 percent to a near six-month high and was the top performer on the benchmark.

Pilbara on Thursday announced commercial production at its Pilgangoora project in Australia. The miner also said it had received interest from third parties for project ownership and product offtake at Pilgangoora.

However, the resurgent risk appetite proved to be a bane for gold stocks which dropped as much as 2.3 percent and were among top losers on the main index.

Newcrest Mining Ltd and Dacian Gold Ltd fell 1.9 percent and 4.3 percent, respectively.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index hit another record high as it climbed 0.5 percent or 43.68 points to 9,809.87. The index was headed for its best quarter since the fourth quarter of 2015.

The benchmark has risen sharply since the country’s central bank shocked investors on Wednesday by raising the prospect of a rate cut as its next move.

Local shares of Westpac Banking Corp and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd led gains as they firmed 1.3 percent and 0.9 percent , respectively.

Reporting by Aditya Soni in Bengaluru; editing by Richard Pullin

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