February 13, 2019 / 1:24 AM / 3 months ago

Australia shares gain on trade optimism, CSL falters after earnings; NZ up

* CSL hits two-week low after H1 results

* CBA trades ex-div

* Energy stocks gain from higher oil prices

By Nikhil Subba

Feb 13 (Reuters) - Australian shares edged higher on Wednesday on hopes the United States and China might be able to hammer out a deal to ease their months-long trade war.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.2 percent, or 11.9 points, to 6088.90 by 0020 GMT, with energy stocks also providing support thanks to higher oil prices. The benchmark rose 0.3 percent on Tuesday.

The broader market gains were capped by heavyweight CSL Ltd , which fell as much as 3.7 percent to its lowest since Jan 31, as investors were disappointed by the pharmaceutical firm’s below-par 10 percent rise in half yearly profit.

“That (10 pct rise) is a low growth rate for CSL, they usually have growth in the 15-25 pct region. So coming in at those levels, there was some disappointment,” said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

The market got some early momentum from strength on Wall Street overnight on U.S.-China trade hopes. U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he would be willing to delay the March 1 deadline to hammer out a trade deal with China, and postpone additional tariffs if the talks in Beijing go well.

Energy stocks were star performers with sector heavyweights Santos Ltd and Oil Search rising around 0.5 percent.

Oil prices rose more than 2 percent on Tuesday on steep OPEC production cuts, with its de-facto leader Saudi Arabia planning to drop March crude output by more than a half a million barrels per day below its initial pledge to bolster oil prices.

Beach Energy Ltd jumped 6.5 percent after the oil and gas explorer on Wednesday increased its production forecast for 2019 and raised its pre-tax earnings guidance by A$200 million for the year.

In the financial sector, the country’s largest lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia, which was trading ex-dividend, fell 2.6 percent. Its rivals, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, National Australia Bank , Westpac Banking Corp all rose above 1 percent.

Financial stocks have managed to recover some of their steeps losses of the past year after the outcome and recommendations of a high profile inquiry into misconduct in the sector were seen as less severe than expected.

Gold producer Northern Star Resources jumped 5.6 percent to a near four-week high, while Regis Resources Ltd rose 2.1 percent to its highest since Feb 6, helped by higher gold prices.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.6 percent to 9338.07.

Chorus Ltd climbed 3 percent to a record high, and A2 Milk rose 1.8 percent to its highest since March 28, 2018.

Reporting by Nikhil Subba in Bengaluru

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