August 28, 2018 / 7:26 AM / 8 months ago

Australia shares end up on hopes of easing trade tensions; glitch halts NZ

* U.S.-Mexico reach NAFTA deal, paves way for Canada deal

* Banks higher as Royal Commission shifts focus to insurers

* New Zealand stock market halted after system glitch (Updates with market close)

By Nikhil Nainan

Aug 28 (Reuters) - Australian shares ended higher on Tuesday, buoyed by hopes that global trade tensions may be easing after the United States and Mexico found common ground to overhaul a North American trade deal.

The S&P/ASX 200 index gained 0.6 percent to 6,304.7 points at the close of trade. The benchmark rose 0.4 percent on Monday.

Investors are watching to see if Canada agrees to new terms to remain part of the three-nation North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Washington’s bid to speed up tariff talks with the European Union also added to the upbeat market tone.

Australia’s financials sector rose on Tuesday, brushing aside concerns about the next phase in a year-long inquiry into misconduct in the financial services sector.

The ‘Big Four’ banks led the way, with National Australia Bank and Commonwealth Bank of Australia rising 1.1 percent and 0.8 percent, respectively. Pension funds at both banks were criticized at the inquiry last week.

The focus of the inquiry now shifts to the insurance sector, with 10 insurance firms expected to appear at the hearings from Sept. 10.

Freedom Insurance Group ended down 11.5 percent after hitting an all-time low earlier in the session.

The Australian newspaper reported that a regulator’s report into the direct sales practices of life insurance firms would “feature” Freedom Insurance. The company and regulator declined to comment.

Among other insurers slated to appear before the inquiry, Insurance Australia Group ended up 1.1 percent, while Suncorp added 0.5 percent.

In the materials sector, Galaxy Resources jumped nearly 6 percent after South Korean steelmaker POSCO sealed a $280 million deal to buy lithium mining rights in Argentina from the company.

The rest of sector also traded higher, with global miners BHP and Rio Tinto both up about 1 percent.

Trading on New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was halted due to a series of glitches, the market operator NZX said. Trading will resume on Wednesday.

The main index was last seen marginally higher at 9,214 points. (Reporting by Nikhil Kurian Nainan in Bengaluru Editing by Darren Schuettler)

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