April 5, 2017 / 3:23 AM / 5 months ago

Australia shares sluggish as Trump-Xi meeting looms; NZ down

April 5 (Reuters) - Australian shares ticked up modestly on Wednesday, supported by gains in material and energy stocks amid a backdrop of cautious trade before a potentially tense meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping later this week.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.07 percent, or 3.95 points, to 5,860.50 by 0230 GMT.

"Markets are really on hold at the moment," said Ric Spooner, Chief market strategist at CMC markets, adding that investors are looking to catalysts from the Trump-Xi meeting as well as the U.S. earnings season.

Global markets have been on edge ahead of the first face-to-face meeting between the U.S. and Chinese leaders since Trump took office on Jan. 20. Trade and security issues are set to figure prominently, with concern also squarely on North Korea, which fired a ballistic missile from its east coast into the sea on Wednesday.

The material index rose 2.2 percent, with heavyweights BHP Billiton Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd rising over 2 percent.

Copper prices rallied as China returned from a two-day break to buy up metals following brighter global manufacturing reports.

Oil prices also jumped overnight to near one-month highs. Woodside Petroleum Ltd rose 1.3 percent.

"Commodity and oil markets have had some support from a strong round of manufacturing PMI data, particularly from Europe, USA, and China, Spooner said.

Gold prices held near one-month highs hit the day before, while China's coking coal futures jumped as much as 7 percent, as impact of Cyclone Debbie hit supplies at key Australian mines.

Gold miner St Barbara Ltd rose 3.2 percent, while coal miner Whitehaven Coal Ltd extended its gains, rising 1.2 percent.

Insurance Australia Group fell 1.9 percent, after it said that claims from cyclone Debbie will incur a net natural peril claims cost of about A$140 million ($105.95 million), increasing its expectation for full year 2017 net natural peril claim costs to A$850 million.

Financial stocks remained under pressure, down 0.4 percent, with Westpac Banking Corp weighing on the index. Consumer stocks were also in the red, the second biggest drag on the benchmark, with retailer Wesfarmers Ltd declining 1.6 percent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index slipped 0.2 percent, or 16.55 points, to 7,227.99.

Material and utilities stocks shed the most on the index, with Fletcher Building Ltd losing 2.5 percent, while Meridian Energy Ltd fell 1.4 percent.

Healthcare stock, Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corp Ltd was among the biggest losers, falling more than 1 percent.

For more individual stocks activity click on ($1 = 1.3214 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Krishna V Kurup in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Susan Mathew; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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