Australia shares inch higher mirroring gains in Wall Street; NZ up

* Energy, healthcare stocks gain

* QBE Insurance drops on flagging weather impact

* Mining stocks weigh

Dec 18 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose marginally on Wednesday, tracking Wall Street after upbeat U.S. economic data, but gains on the benchmark were tempered by losses in the scandal-hit financial sector.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.13% to 6,856.20 by 0119 GMT. The benchmark closed 0.04% lower on Tuesday.

Major U.S. indexes extended their record-setting rally on Tuesday, after data showed U.S. homebuilding in November increased to the highest level since May 2007, while manufacturing output picked up more than expected.

“U.S. data is showing signs of more stability in the global growth story, so there is a little bit more optimism around that...investor confidence seems higher at the moment due to more stability in the global growth outlook,” James Tao, market analyst at CommSec said.

Global growth has been impacted by the protracted trade tussle between Washington and Beijing, but the recently inked preliminary U.S.-China trade deal has improved investor sentiment.

The Australian benchmark got a boost from energy stocks , which rose as much as 0.9% to their highest since Oct. 11 as oil prices gained on hopes that the U.S.-China trade deal would bolster demand in 2020.

Oil Search climbed as much as 3.1% to its highest since Sept. 25, while Santos advanced over 1%.

Healthcare stocks gained as much as 0.7% to touch its highest since Dec. 3, with index heavyweight CSL rising 0.8% higher to a peak of over two weeks.

The heavyweight financial sector fell as much as 0.8% and was the biggest drag on the benchmark.

“The downside today is the performance of the financials. The banks, the ‘big four’ in particular, have begun falling from the broader market,” Tao said.

The high-profile sector has been mired in misconduct allegations. The National Australia Bank was accused of charging financial advice customers “fees for no service”, and Westpac Banking Corp is being examined for money laundering.

Three of the ‘big four’ banks, except Commonwealth Bank of Australia were trading in the negative territory.

QBE Insurance Group dropped as much as 5.7% after the Sydney-based insurer said its North American crop business is expected to be impacted in 2019 by adverse weather conditions.

A fall in iron ore prices bruised major miners of the commodity, causing the mining index to slip 0.6% lower.

BHP Group shed 0.2%, while peer Rio Tinto fell over 1%.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index advanced 0.7% or 81.2 points to 11,342.03.

Kathmandu Holdings and Oceania Healthcare were the top gainers on the New Zealand benchmark, rising as much as 3.8% and 3.6%, respectively.

Reporting by Nikhil Subba in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur