August 20, 2018 / 6:58 AM / 8 months ago

Australian shares edge up; NZ at record closing high

* Materials gain in run up to U.S.-China meeting

* Outlook from Ansell, Woolworths Group curb optimism

* NZ benchmark ends at record closing high (Updates to close)

By Aaron Saldanha

Aug 20 (Reuters) - Australian shares inched up on Monday, as cautious outlook from retailer Woolworths Group and rubber products maker Ansell offset gains from materials stocks, which were buoyed by upcoming trade talks between U.S. and Chinese officials.

China and the United States will hold lower-level trade talks this month, offering hope that they might resolve an escalating tariff war with reports suggesting the talks in Washington would take place on Aug. 21 and 22.

“We’ve had some positive leads from international trading... in particular, news of an agreement between China and the U.S. that both sides were looking to put in place by November, turned sentiment around,” said Michael McCarthy, chief strategist at CMC Markets and Stockbroking.

The S&P/ASX 200 index added 0.1 percent to settle at 6,345 on Monday. It recorded a 0.2 percent gain on Friday.

Shares of Fortescue Metals Group rose 1.2 percent after the miner said it would produce a 60 percent iron content product in the second half of the fiscal 2019, combating the widening discount for its lower grade ore.

Global miner BHP rose for the first time in four sessions to end Monday 1.3 percent higher. Rival Rio Tinto Ltd tacked on 0.3 percent.

The union representing workers of BHP-operated Chilean mine Escondida, signed a new collective labour contract on Friday, ending the risk of a strike that could have paralysed the world’s biggest copper mine.

Retailer Woolworths Group slipped 0.6 percent. While its profit for the 2018 fiscal year rose, the company said sales in its Australian food division in the current fiscal year so far had slowed.

Rubber products maker Ansell Ltd lost 7.2 percent after it said it expects trade issues to raise the cost of the goods it imports into the United States from China.

In New Zealand, the local benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index closed up 0.6 percent to 9,109.15, an all-time closing high. Export-oriented health care stocks, which gained from a weak New Zealand dollar, and utilities helped the main index hit the milestone.

Medical device maker Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corp Ltd firmed 1.8 percent to its highest close since a month and a half. (Reporting by Aaron Saldanha in Bengaluru; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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