November 28, 2019 / 6:18 AM / 13 days ago

Cautious optimism pulls Australian, NZ shares off record peaks

(Updates to close)

Nov 28 (Reuters) - Australian and New Zealand shares retreated from record levels touched earlier on Thursday, but closed firmer as investors hope Washington and Beijing can work around differences on Hong Kong and sign a highly anticipated trade deal.

China’s Foreign Ministry warned the United States of unspecified “firm counter measures” after President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed into law legislation backing pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

After climbing to their highest intraday peak ever of 6,879.5, Australia’s benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index eased to close 0.2% firmer at 6,864.

Renewed optimism of a trade deal, albeit, an initial one, has buoyed global markets.

The next round of U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods is due to take effect on Dec. 15.

The Australian benchmark is on track for its best week since early-February, though volumes on Thursday were at their lowest this week, signalling cautious optimism among investors.

Telstra Corp helped drive some of the gains, closing 4% firmer. Credit Suisse had upgraded the telecom provider, citing its strong performance in a slowing market.

In the banking space, Westpac Banking Corp offered to refund investors who bought new shares weeks before a bombshell lawsuit accused the lender of millions of breaches of money laundering laws, sending its shares down 0.4%.

Summing up the intense scrutiny the big banks find themselves in - the life insurance arm of Commonwealth Bank of Australia was convicted of 87 counts of cold-calling offences but fined less than half of the maximum penalty allowed. The company’s shares dipped 0.1% on Thursday.

The neighbouring S&P/NZX 50 index, New Zealand’s benchmark, was set for its best week since September.

The benchmark closed 0.8% higher, after rising 1.4% to a record intraday high of 11,273.22.

Trading will likely be subdued on Friday given the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States providing little cues for further moves. (Reporting by Nikhil Kurian Nainan in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)

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