May 31, 2018 / 7:11 AM / 4 months ago

Aussie shares end higher as Italy turmoil eases; NZ posts bumper month

* Mining stocks lead ASX gains

* Healthcare stocks fall, Trump sees massive falls in drug prices

* NZ marks biggest monthly gain since Dec 2017 (Updates to close)

By Devika Syamnath

May 31 (Reuters) - Australian shares rode broad-based gains led by materials stocks to close higher on Thursday, tracking a global rally in equities as Italy’s political turmoil receded, but health stocks were hit by U.S. President Donald Trump’s talk of “voluntary massive drops” in drug prices.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.5 percent or 27.2 points to 6011.9. The benchmark marked a monthly gain of 0.5 percent.

Global markets were rattled this week when Italy’s two anti-establishment parties scrapped plans to form a coalition but some calm was restored when the parties renewed efforts to collaborate.

Australia’s mining stocks closed 1.8 percent higher and contributed most of the gains on the benchmark after commodity shares rose on upbeat metal prices.

Global mining heavyweights Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton gained 1.2 percent and 1.8 percent, respectively.

The index of financial stocks gave up earlier gains to end flat and Commonwealth Bank of Australia closed at its lowest in almost five years, down 0.4 percent.

“It’s just a currency expectations play. When the global guys think our currency is going to fall, they tend to sell out of our banks to reduce exposure to Australia,” said Mathan Somasundaram, Market Portfolio Strategist at Blue Ocean Equities.

The Australian dollar bounced off key chart support on Thursday but stayed trapped in a narrow band.

Healthcare stocks registered most of the losses on the index, down 0.5 percent.

Trump on Wednesday said he expects major drug companies to slash prices on their products in two weeks.

“If that is the case, that means healthcare costs are going to be going down. So pretty much all the global businesses like CSL, Cochlear, potentially their markets might get squeezed so that’s a worry,” said Somasundaram.

Index heavyweight CSL Ltd was the biggest drag, falling 0.7 percent in the session. Cochlear Ltd lost 1.1 percent.

Software developer MYOB Group had the biggest percentage loss on the benchmark, dropping 8.2 percent to close at its lowest in more than two years.

The fall followed news MYOB had scrapped its A$180 million ($136.15 million) acquisition of Reckon Ltd’s accounting practice software arm.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was 0.1 percent or 10.93 points higher at 8,658.79. The benchmark posted its best month since December 2017.

Consumer staples and healthcare stocks led gainers on the index, with Synlait Milk and Fisher & Paykel Healthcare up as much as 5.1 percent and 1.4 percent, respectively. ($1 = 1.3221 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Devika Syamnath in Bengaluru Editing by Eric Meijer)

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