October 14, 2019 / 5:58 AM / a month ago

Australia shares gain for 3rd day on trade talk optimism

(Updates to close)

Oct 14 (Reuters) - Australian shares ended higher for a third straight session on Monday, aided mainly by gains in financials and energy stocks, as signs of headway in Sino-U.S. trade talks prompted investors to move back into riskier assets.

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed up 0.5% at 6,642.60 points, following a 0.9% gain on Friday.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday outlined the first phase of a trade deal with China in a step towards patching up a tariff war that has hounded financial markets and weighed on global growth.

Trump suspended a U.S. tariff hike on Chinese goods due on Tuesday, but his announcement did not include many other details, and officials on both sides said much more work needed to be done before an accord could be agreed.

Renewed geopolitical tensions in the Middle East boosted energy firms, as the index gained about 3%, the most it has put on in nearly a month.

Santos Ltd was the top percentage gainer among energy firms, climbing 5.7% after saying it would buy ConocoPhillips’ northern Australian business for $1.39 billion in a deal that would boost the Australian oil and gas group’s output by 25%.

The “Big Four” banks rose between 0.4% and 0.7% despite a government decision to direct Australia’s competition regulator to conduct an inquiry into why banks did not pass on recent rate cuts in full.

“The problem is the regulators have set the banks free from the RBA (Reserve Bank of Australia) so it’s very hard to complain now,” said Henry Jennings, senior analyst and portfolio manager at Marcustoday Financial Newsletter.

“Any action is just really a peripheral issue for the banks. The remediation costs are the bigger problem and quantifying those is a positive for the sector,” he said, adding that the focus is now shifting to bank earnings at the end of the month.

ANZ and National Australia Bank have already reported expected remediation costs to compensate customers for past wrongdoings.

Miners also advanced on the day, with diversified players and index heavyweights BHP Group and Rio Tinto adding about 2% and 2.2%, respectively.

The New Zealand benchmark ended about 1% higher at 11,026.6, its highest closing level since Sept. 10.

SKY Network Television finished as the top percentage performer, gaining more than 19%, after signing a broadcast deal with some rugby unions, while Fisher & Paykel Healthcare hit a record high on upgraded guidance.

Reporting by Aby Jose Koilparambil and Devika Syamnath in Bengaluru; Editing by Kim Coghill

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