May 18, 2020 / 1:42 AM / 10 days ago

Australia, NZ shares climb as more countries emerge from lockdown

* Australia implements three-step plan to relax lockdown measures

* Gold stocks hit highest in nine months

* China opposes U.S. rules against Huawei, tensions flare

By Arpit Nayak

May 18 (Reuters) - Australian stocks rose on Monday as investors took comfort in the possibility of countries reopening from the coronavirus-led lockdown and fueling an economic recovery, while safe-haven gold miners got a boost from renewed Sino-U.S. trade tensions.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was up 0.9% at 5,452.9 points, as of 0056 GMT. The benchmark closed 1.4% firmer on Friday.

Summer weather is enticing much of the world to emerge from the lockdown as centres of the outbreak from New York to Italy and Spain gradually lift restrictions that have kept millions cooped up for months.

Australia is in the middle of a three-step plan to relax lockdown measures and restart its economy, with its most populous state, New South Wales, easing curbs on Friday.

However, some uncertainty arose on the trade front as Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said on Sunday that Beijing had not yet responded to Australia’s calls to mend frayed trade relations after Canberra called for an international enquiry into the origins of the pandemic.

Gold stocks jumped as much as 6.5%, hitting their highest since last August, as flaring U.S.-China trade tensions fuelled economic uncertainty, sending bullion prices up.

Newcrest Mining and AngloGold Ashanti surged up to 6.5% and 9.6%, respectively.

“With interest rates near 0%, global opportunity cost of owning gold remains alternatively attractive to currency hedges as the path of the U.S.-China trade war could be paving the way higher with gold bars,” Stephen Innes, Chief Global Market Strategist at AxiCorp, said in a note.

China’s commerce ministry said it would take necessary steps to safeguard interests of Chinese firms following the latest rules against telecoms equipment supplier Huawei Technologies by the United States.

An sharp jump in iron ore prices late Friday saw heavyweight miners climb 3.7%.

BHP Group, the world’s biggest miner, gained as much as 3.4%, while iron ore giant Rio Tinto rose 3.1%.

China iron ore futures scaled a 9-1/2-month peak on Friday after economic data reflected recovery and robust demand in the world’s top steel-producing nation.

Healthcare stocks added 1.7%, with industry giant CSL and hospital operator Ramsay Health Care gaining up to 2.2% and 2.4%, respectively.

Energy stocks gained 3.3% on the heels of an uptick in demand for oil as countries across the world restart activity and ease travel curbs.

The financial sub-index traded in the red, with top lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia easing 0.7%.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.4% to 10,768.23 points.

Australia and New Zealand Banking Group rose 1.9%, while electricity generator Meridian Energy added 3.6% to the index. (Reporting by Arpit Nayak in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)

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