January 2, 2020 / 1:44 AM / 23 days ago

Australia shares rise on healthcare, technology gains

* Afterpay among top boosts to benchmark

* Financials temper broader gains

* NZ closed on Thursday

By Nikhil Subba

Jan 2 (Reuters) - Australian shares inched higher on Thursday on their first trading day of the year, led by gains in healthcare and tech sectors amid thin trading volumes.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was up 0.13% at 6,693.60 by 0116 GMT, with volumes nearly a sixth of its 30-day moving average. The benchmark fell 1.8% on Tuesday. Markets were closed for the New Year’s Day public holiday on Wednesday.

Afterpay Ltd rose as much as 2.7% and was among the top boosts to the Australian benchmark, after the Melbourne-based fintech firm said California had approved its lending license for the U.S. state.

That came as California rejected a similar application for Sezzle Inc, an Afterpay competitor, knocking that stock down 19.1% to its lowest since its July debut.

“They’re (Afterpay) interpreting the report regarding the California decisions on the license as a positive in terms of business,” Brad Smoling, managing director at Smoling Stockbroking said.

Afterpay’s gain helped the technology sector climb almost 1% for its best session since Dec. 27.

Drugmaker CSL advanced as much as 1%, in its biggest intraday percentage gain in over a week, while Cochlear strengthened 1.3% in its best session since Dec. 18. This helped the healthcare index climb about 0.9% higher.

The energy sector rose 0.4%, helped by index heavyweight Santos which gained 0.7%in its best session in over a week, while Woodside Petroleum rose as much as 0.4%.

Oil prices notched the biggest annual gain in three years in 2019, supported by a thaw in the prolonged U.S.-China trade war and ongoing supply cuts from major oil producers.

Meanwhile, the heavyweight Australian financial sector slipped as much as 0.6% to a three-week low, with all the “big four” banks trading in the negative territory.

The broader mining index fell as much as 0.4% to its lowest since Dec. 24, due to a more than 1% fall among gold-related stocks.

Gold miner Perseus Mining was among top losers in the mining sector, shedding as much as 3%, while peer Dacian Gold dropped over 4%.

New Zealand markets were closed for a public holiday.

Reporting by Nikhil Subba in Bengaluru; Editing by Sam Holmes

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