August 7, 2018 / 2:47 AM / 10 days ago

Australian shares slip, weighed by materials; NZ utilities gain

* Amcor falls after $5.25 bln deal for U.S.-listed packaging firm Bemis Co Inc

* BHP approaches Chilean government for mediation at copper mine

* Aussie energy stocks up

By Aaron Saldanha

Aug 7 (Reuters) - Australian shares slipped on Tuesday morning, as a decline in copper prices weighed on the wider materials sector, overshadowing gains in energy stocks, which tracked oil prices higher.

Mining heavyweights were among the biggest drivers behind a 0.3 percent drop in Australia’s benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index to 6,257.1 by 0200 GMT.

The benchmark rose 0.6 percent on Monday.

In metals markets, LME-traded copper fell 1.2 percent on Monday amid worries about the damage to global economic growth from the trade dispute between the United States and its trading partners and a stronger dollar.

Among the miners, BHP fell 1.5 percent while rival Rio Tinto was 1.3 percent lower.

BHP said on Monday that it formally requested a period of government mediation with the union at Chile’s Escondida copper mine, where a strike could start as soon as next week if a deal is not reached. Rio is the second biggest shareholder in Escondida, the world’s biggest copper mine.

In the industrials sector, Amcor Ltd, the world’s biggest listed packaging company, fell as much as 5.8 percent after it announced a $5.25 billion all-stock deal to buy U.S.-listed Bemis Company Inc.

The benchmark’s biggest loser was financial services firm Eclipx Group, which lost as much as 45.4 percent and hit a record low after trimming its full year profit outlook.

Meanwhile, an index of the country’s financial stocks traded 0.3 percent lower, largely on account of a 0.8 percent slip in Commonwealth Bank of Australia, a day before the country’s largest lender is due to report annual results.

Coal miner Yancoal Australia Ltd said it would restart production at its Austar mine, sending the stock up 3.7 percent, the most in over a month.

Elsewhere in the sector, Wesfarmers Ltd said it would sell its 40 percent stake in the Bengalla Joint Venture thermal coal mine project to partner New Hope Corp Ltd for A$860 million ($634.9 million).

Wesfarmers shares were as much up as 2.2 percent, at a record high, while those of New Hope Corp were up to 9.1 percent stronger, at their highest in over 4-1/2 years.

Australian energy stocks were higher as oil prices maintained gains recorded on Monday due to reports that Saudi crude production unexpectedly fell in July.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was little changed as gains in utilities were offset by losses in materials and consumer staples.

However, retirement village operator Summerset Group Holdings Ltd was the top gainer, up 1.2 percent, after announcing it bought land to build a second facility in New Plymouth.

$1 = 1.3545 Australian dollars For more individual stocks activity click on Reporting by Aaron Saldanha in Bengaluru; Editing by Sam Holmes

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