October 14, 2019 / 1:48 AM / a month ago

Australia, New Zealand shares move higher on trade progress

* Santos jumps on acquisition of some local ConocoPhillips assets

* Energy firms boosted by oil price gains after Iran tanker attack

* SKY Network tops NZX gainers on rugby broadcast deal

By Devika Syamnath

Oct 14 (Reuters) - Strength in miners and banks helped Australian shares rise for a third straight session on Monday, bolstered by signs of headway in trade talks between the world’s two largest economies.

The S&P/ASX 200 index tacked on 0.8% or 54.3 points to 6,661.1 by 0055 GMT.

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 hampered growth prospects.

“The ‘deal’ represents the most material breakthrough since the trade war started, but it neither rolls back existing tariffs nor reverses the damaging spillover of tensions into technology areas,” Stephen Innes, Asia Pacific Market Strategist at AxiTrader said in a note.

China is the biggest buyer of Australia’s major resource exports and trade optimism fed into commodity players on the day, with mining stocks picking up as much as 1.2%.

But Friday’s announcement did not include many details while officials on both sides said much more work needed to be done.

Global miners BHP Group and Rio Tinto added up to 2.4% and 3.2%, respectively.

Oil prices held near their Friday levels after jumping sharply on reports of an attack on an Iranian oil tanker.

Renewed geopolitical tensions in the Middle East boosted energy firms, adding as much as 2.9% to see their best intraday gain in four weeks.

Santos Ltd was the second-biggest gainer on the benchmark index 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%.

Meanwhile, the “Big Four” banks tacked on between 1.1% and 1.4% despite the Federal Government’s 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 focus now shifts 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.

The New Zealand benchmark advanced as much as 1.3% and was set for its best session in nearly six weeks.

SKY Network Television was the top gainer after signing a broadcast deal with some rugby unions, while Fisher & Paykel Healthcare hit a record high on upgraded guidance. (Reporting by Devika Syamnath in Bengaluru Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

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