January 21, 2019 / 6:20 AM / 3 months ago

Australia shares end higher despite China jitters; NZ up

(Updates to close)

By Aman Swami

Jan 21 (Reuters) - Australian shares gained for a fifth consecutive session on Monday, led by banks and energy firms, despite wariness that a slowdown in China’s economy could hurt the country’s fortunes.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.2 percent, or 10.80 points, to 5,890.40, its best close since Nov. 12. The benchmark had risen 0.5 percent on Friday.

China is Australia’s single-biggest export market and data on Monday confirmed that its mammoth economy was losing some momentum under pressure from faltering demand and bruising U.S. tariffs. Economic growth in 2018 slipped to the lowest in nearly three decades.

“China’s GDP data had minimal impact on the Australian market today but in the medium to longer term, it’s a positive and it speaks directly to the concerns that a lot of investors had about the effect of the trade dispute on the Chinese economy,” Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets said.

He added that the data, while worrisome for the Australian economy, was in line with what the market expected and industrial production numbers provided a surprise.

Industrial output was better-than-expected in December, up 5.7 percent from a year earlier, which was stronger than a Reuters poll of 5.4 percent.

Financial stocks, the Australian benchmark’s largest constituents, rose 0.2 percent, lifted by lenders Westpac Banking Corp and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, which closed 0.2 percent and 0.5 percent respectively.

Energy stocks added 0.5 percent, helped by strength in crude oil prices.

Oil prices rose to their highest in 2019 after data showed refinery processing in China, the world’s second-largest oil consumer, climbed to a record in 2018.

Meanwhile, gold stocks and metals and mining index declined 1.8 percent and 0.4 percent respectively.

The benchmark has risen 4.3 percent so far this year.

“One of the challenges for the Australian market is that it has risen very strongly over the last few weeks before the December low and having made such a strong rise so quickly, its struggling to make further gains,” McCarthy added.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.6 percent, or 50.860 points, to finish the session at 9,148.57.

Communication services provider Chorus Ltd was one of the top percentage gainers, closing 2.4 percent higher. (Reporting by Aman Swami in Bengaluru Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

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