January 15, 2020 / 6:21 AM / 5 days ago

Australia shares post record closing highs on gold stocks; NZ up

* Gold index jumps 3.3%, the sharpest in four months

* U.S.-China Phase 1 deal to be signed later in day (Updates to close)

By Nikhil Subba

Jan 15 (Reuters) - Australian shares scaled record closing levels on Wednesday, buoyed by gains in gold stocks as doubts emerged about the impact of a preliminary Sino-U.S. trade pact after a top U.S. official said China tariffs would remain in place for now.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.5% to 6,994.80 at the close of trade. The benchmark ended 0.9% higher on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said tariffs on Chinese goods would be maintained until the completion of a second phase trade agreement, cementing worries that major differences are likely to remain between the two economic power houses.

“The limited nature of this (Phase 1) deal begs the question of prospects for further progress on lowering trade barriers,” Mizuho analysts said in a note to clients.

As widely reported, the eventual removal of tariffs by Washington, which is not expected until after November’s presidential elections, would depend on Beijing’s compliance with the Phase 1 accord.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He are slated to sign the deal at the White House later in the day.

Australia’s gold index settled 3.3% higher, the most in four months, as bullion prices rose on safe-haven demand amid worries of a protracted Sino-U.S. tariff dispute.

St Barbara Ltd was the top gainer on the Australian benchmark stock index, rising about 8% to a one-week closing high, while Evolution Mining climbed 5.8%.

Gains in major gold miners also helped the broader mining sector advance 0.3% to a 5-1/2-month closing peak.

Energy stocks ended 0.7% higher, with industry heavyweights Santos and Oil Search rising 1% each.

The heavyweight financial index, which includes some of the biggest Australian companies, added 0.4%. All of the ‘big four’ banks closed in the positive territory.

Across the Tasman sea, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.4% to 11,676.67.

Real estate company Kiwi Property Group climbed 2.3%, while energy retailer Genesis Energy finished nearly 2% higher. (Reporting by Nikhil Subba in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)

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