November 19, 2019 / 1:53 AM / 19 days ago

Australia shares flat as investors seek trade-deal clarity; NZ up

* CBA’s life insurance arm pleads guilty to hawking offenses

* Woodside narrows its FY production outlook

* a2 Milk records best session in 1-1/2 years

By Shreya Mariam Job

Nov 19 (Reuters) - Australian shares were flat on Tuesday as investors kept to the sidelines awaiting definitive details on the trade-deal negotiations between Washington and Beijing amid a lack of other market-moving catalysts.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was trading at 6771.90, as of 0126 GMT. The benchmark closed 0.4% lower on Monday.

“Markets are waiting on any trade update to feed the frenzy at the moment the multiples are relatively stretched and you need a bit of certainty to go to the next leg,” said Mathan Somasundaram, market portfolio strategist, Blue Ocean Equities.

Last week, a CNBC report cited that the mood in Beijing was pessimistic due to U.S. President Donald Trump’s reluctance to roll back tariffs, dampening sentiment among global investors.

Meanwhile, minutes of the Reserve Bank of Australia’s meeting showed that the central bank considered cutting interest rates for a fourth time this year at its November meeting, but decided to hold steady, in part due to risks further easing would harm savers and confidence.

The market was barely affected by the release of the minutes, trading relatively flat as losses in energy and tech stocks offset gains among gold miners.

Gold stocks rose 0.6% with shares of Bellevue Gold up as much as 7.5% and those of Dacian Gold gaining 2.5%.

Financial stocks dropped lower with the ‘Big Four’ banks trading in the red. National Australia Bank dropped 0.8%.

Shares of Commonwealth Bank of Australia slipped marginally after Australian Securities and Investments Commission said the company’s life insurance arm had pleaded guilty to 87 counts of hawking offences.

Meanwhile, energy stocks also weighed on the Australian benchmark, slipping 0.6%.

Shares of Woodside Petroleum fell as much as 1% after the company narrowed its production outlook for 2019 fiscal and said it would look to sell a 50% stake in a new unit it will be adding at the Pluto plant.

One of the biggest drags in the energy index, industrial engineering services firm Worley Ltd dropped up to 0.9%.

Shares of Qantas Airways Ltd rose 1.8% after the company said it was targeting an annual spending of about A$2 billion ($1.36 billion) in the 2020 fiscal.

Tech stocks continued their downward slump into another session with shares of Wisetech Global shedding 7.8%.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.6%, or 60.90 points, to 10,934.06, propped up by solid gains in a2 Milk Co.

The company raised its operating profit margin forecast on the back of higher marketing spending.

Shares of the dairy giant jumped up to 18.8%, marking their best session since Feb. 22, 2018. Stock was also the top gainer in both the antipodeans’ benchmark stock indexes.

Reporting by Shreya Mariam Job in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips

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