June 12, 2018 / 2:44 AM / in 9 days

Australian shares edge up, investors focused on Trump-Kim meeting; NZ lower

* Consumer, pharma stocks thrive in thin trade

* Material stocks check gains as base metal prices weaken

* NZX down on consumer stocks

By Devika Syamnath

June 12 (Reuters) - Australian shares inched up in thin trade on Tuesday as investors closely followed developments from a historic meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore.

At 0214 GMT, the S&P/ASX 200 index advanced 0.1 percent or 6.6 points to 6,051.8. The Australian financial markets were closed on Monday.

A possible diplomatic breakthrough from the meeting could bring lasting change to the security landscape of Northeast Asia. Only months earlier Trump and Kim had traded insults and tensions spiralled in the region over North Korea’s nuclear programmes.

“This (meeting) obviously has a fairly important impact on us regionally...the markets are expecting the unexpected from two very volatile characters but it has certainly led to a subdued opening on our markets,” said James McGlew, executive director for corporate stockbroking at Perth-based Argonaut.

Consumer staples were the best performers with retail conglomerate Wesfarmers adding as much as 1.4 percent to its best level since the stock’s debut in 1984.

Wesfarmers completed the sale of its loss-making UK home improvement chain Homebase, which it had bought for A$700 million ($53.17 million) in 2016 and agreed to sell for 1 pound ($1.34) just two years later, ending a disastrous offshore foray.

Healthcare stocks, generally considered a safe haven in times of uncertainty, thrived in the shadow of the U.S.-North Korea meeting and rose 1 percent to a record.

CSL Ltd was the most impactful support to the main board and added 1.3 percent to an all-time high.

Industrial stocks also advanced with Sydney Airport Holdings Pty Ltd and toll-road operator Transurban Group climbing up to 3.1 percent and 1.7 percent, respectively.

Shares of Australia’s second-biggest airline Virgin Australia Holdings gained 2.3 percent after it said Chief Executive and Managing Director John Borghetti will not be renewing his contract post Jan. 1, 2020.

However, weakness in iron ore and base metal prices sapped confidence in material stocks which led the decliners on the benchmark.

Deutsche Bank cut the rating of global miner Rio Tinto’s London shares to ‘Hold’ from ‘Buy,’ sending shares back home down as much as 1.7 percent. Rival BHP Billiton Ltd also dropped 1.2 percent.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was down 0.2 percent or 14.44 points to 8,942.25 at 0157 GMT. The index closed 0.2 percent higher on Monday.

Consumer staples stocks contributed most to the index’s fall.

Dairy products maker a2 Milk Company Ltd fell 3.8 percent and the was the heaviest drag on the main index. ($1 = 1.3165 Australian dollars) ($1 = 0.7488 pounds) (Reporting by Devika Syamnath in Bengaluru, additional reporting by Nikhil Kurian Nainan in Bengaluru Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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