November 1, 2018 / 1:02 AM / 16 days ago

Australia shares firmer on mining, financial gains; NZ higher

* BHP posts biggest intra-day gain in nearly 2 yrs

* Benchmark set to post 5th straight session of gains

* Energy stocks cap gains

By Aby Jose Koilparambil

Nov 1 (Reuters) - Australian shares started the month on a positive note on Thursday, following a rocky October, gaining as much as 0.8 percent in morning trade, powered by mining giant BHP and financial stocks.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.2 percent or 11.6 points to 5,841.90 by 0035 GMT, on track to post a fifth consecutive session of gains. The benchmark, however, is coming off a 6.1 percent October loss, its biggest monthly drop since August 2015, hurt by Sino-U.S. trade tensions and corporate growth worries in the U.S.

The world’s biggest miner BHP rose as much as 6.2 percent, its biggest intra-day gain in nearly two years, after it said it will start an off-market buyback of $5.2 billion shares immediately, with the remainder of the proceeds from its U.S. onshore assets sale to be returned in the form of a special dividend.

BHP, an index heavyweight, spurred the bourse’s metals and mining index, up as much as 3.1 percent, to its biggest intra-day gain in more than six months.

“The special dividend is very important for Australian investors because very likely there will be franking attached, making it more valuable,” said Michael McCarthy, chief strategist at CMC Markets Stockbroking.

Australia’s largest-listed wealth manager AMP Ltd was the top percentage gainer on the benchmark, rising as much as 9.7 percent, after reports the country’s biggest investment bank Macquarie Group is mulling a takeover of the embattled firm, reeling under Royal Commission inquiry.

The financial index erased initial losses to rise as much as about 1 percent in morning trade, with all “Big Four” banks trading higher despite National Bank of Australia , the country’s fourth-largest lender reporting, a 14 percent fall in annual earnings.

“It (NAB results report) was not as bad as feared... So we are seeing a bit of a relief rally but the stock has already faded from the highs in early trading,” McCarthy said.

The early gains in the benchmark, however, were capped by losses in the energy sector after oil prices fell overnight on evidence of rising global crude supply, but losses were limited by signs of strong U.S. demand for fuel.

Australia’s top energy retailer Origin Energy fell as much as 1.5 percent while oil and gas explorer Beach Energy shed as much as 2.3 percent.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was on track to post a fifth consecutive session of gains, rising 0.3 percent, or 23.1 points, to 8,775.44.

Dairy company Synlait Milk and Air New Zealand were the top percentage gainers on the benchmark, rising about 6 percent and 5 percent, respectively.

Reporting by Aby Jose Koilparambil in Bengaluru; Editing by Sam Holmes

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