February 14, 2019 / 1:32 AM / 2 days ago

Australian shares higher on stronger resources sector; NZ up

* South32, Woodside Petroleum boost benchmark

* Oil, copper prices higher

* AMP, Suncorp fall on weaker results

By Nikhil Subba

Feb 14 (Reuters) - Australian shares edged higher on Thursday, driven by miners and oil producers following upbeat earnings and higher commodities prices, although losses from scandal-hit wealth manager AMP limited broader gains.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.17 percent, or 10.5 points, to 6,074.1 by 0029 GMT. The index fell 0.25 percent on Wednesday.

The market was also bolstered by an improvement in wider risk sentiment amid signs of easing tensions in the U.S.-China trade conflict. U.S. President Donald Trump indicated that talks between the world’s two largest economies were “going along very well” as they seek to resolve their tariff dispute.

Australia’s top oil and gas producer Woodside Petroleum surprised investors with a fat dividend after reporting a 36-percent percent rise in annual profit, underpinned by stronger oil prices.

The news sent its shares up as much as 2.3 percent to a near four-week high, making it among the biggest drivers of the benchmark.

Meanwhile, oil prices rose on the back of supply cuts from top exporter Saudi Arabia, which drove index heavyweight Santos Ltd up 2.3 percent to its highest since October last year. Peer Oil Search rose 1.6 percent to a week’s high.

“We appear to be following positive leads from overnight trading, in particular higher oil prices,” said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

Mining giant BHP Group, which operates the world’s largest copper mine, rose 1.66 percent to a near eight-year high as copper prices rose on easing trade tensions. Rival Rio Tinto was 1.5 percent higher.

Despite the improvement in confidence, investors are cautious ahead of Chinese trade data, which is expected to show further falls in both exports and imports.

Australia’s resource-rich economy is heavily exposed to the Chinese market.

Shares of South32 Ltd, the world’s largest manganese miner, rose as much as 3.8 percent to their highest since October last year, after posting an 18 percent rise in half-year underlying profit.

Gains in the financial sector were offset by wealth manager AMP Ltd and insurer Suncorp Group, after both companies reported a slump in half-year and annual profits.

Additionally, Australia’s largest telecoms company Telstra Corp posted a 28 percent slump in half-year profit on Thursday sending its shares down as much as 4.2 percent to their lowest in over a week.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index edged 0.113 percent higher to 9,343.94.

Synlait Milk was the top boost on the index, up 3.35 percent, while SkyCity Entertainment Group rose 1.3 percent. (Reporting by Nikhil Subba in Bengaluru; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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