August 9, 2018 / 2:55 AM / 4 months ago

Australian shares rise as earnings season kicks in; NZ climbs

* Financial stocks boost Australia benchmark

* Suncorp Group jumps on unit sale

* Global trade tensions hit commodity shares

By Nikhil Nainan

Aug 9 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose on Thursday in the wake of decent results at some companies as earnings season gathers pace, but mining and energy stocks dragged as international trade worries cloud the demand outlook for everything from copper to coal.

The S&P/ASX 200 index had inched up 0.4 percent to 6,294.2 by 0200 GMT. It climbed 0.2 percent on Wednesday.

Financial stocks gave the benchmark index its biggest lift, with Magellan Financial Group jumping 14.9 percent after strong full-year results.

Australia’s second-largest general insurer, Suncorp Group , climbed as much as 6.4 percent on its plan to sell its life insurance division for A$725 million ($538.82 million), ending over a year of speculation on the sale.

“Even though some people expected more for the asset, it’s the fact that the deal has finally been done,” said Damian Rooney, director of equity sales at Argonaut.

“They have a fairly large amount of cash to return to shareholders now.”

But utility AGL Energy held the index back, dropping as much as 5.4 percent after its forecast for underlying profit in 2019 came in below analyst expectations.

Meanwhile, a fresh round of tit-for-tat tariffs in the ongoing Sino-U.S. trade conflict dragged on stocks for miners along with oil and gas producers.

Natural resources account for a big chunk of Australia’s economy, with China the top customer for many of its commodities.

“(The) trade war is regaining its legs a little bit. I think that’s probably spooking people this morning,” said Rooney at Argonaut.

Mining giant Rio Tinto dropped 2.4 percent to its lowest in four months with its shares trading ex-dividend, while BHP slipped 0.2 percent.

BHP said on Thursday that the federal court of Minas Gerais in Brazil had approved an agreement with authorities in the country to settle a $5 billion lawsuit over the 2015 Samarco dam failure that killed 19 people.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index climbed 0.7 percent, or 58.96 points, to 8,931.71.

Index heavyweights Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corporation Ltd and Ryman Healthcare Ltd were the biggest gainers, rising 1.6 percent and 2.1 percent respectively.

Stocks for healthcare firms, which export many of their goods and services, were supported as the New Zealand dollar dropped after the nation’s central bank committed to keep interest rates at record lows through to 2020. For more individual stocks activity click on (Reporting by Nikhil Kurian Nainan Additional reporting by Ambar Warrick in Bengaluru Editing by Joseph Radford)

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