February 21, 2019 / 1:50 AM / 4 months ago

Australia shares nudge up on Wesfarmers boost; NZ firms

* Wesfarmers H1 profit jumps over 10 pct

* Qantas falls on profit drop

* Stronger Aussie dlr hurts miners

By Nikhil Nainan

Feb 21 (Reuters) - Australian shares edged higher on Thursday, supported by a jump in profit from conglomerate Wesfarmers that offset losses among resource stocks.

The S&P/ASX 200 index wavered between positive and negative territory to be up 0.3 percent at 6,113.10 by 0128 GMT. The benchmark ended 0.2 percent lower on Wednesday.

Wesfarmers Ltd was the biggest boost to the index, gaining as much as 6.6 percent to a more than four-month high after its first-half profit jumped 10 percent.

In its first results after spinning off supermarket chain Coles Group, the group defied a broad retail downturn on the back of a robust performance by its domestic hardware business Bunnings.

Coles, which reported a sharper-than-expected fall in half-year profit on Tuesday, was on track for a fourth straight session of losses.

The country’s biggest supermarket chain Woolworths Group Ltd warned on Wednesday of a prolonged slump in consumer sentiment as it posted a lower-than-expected first-half profit.

In a drag on the market, miners notched up losses after the Australian dollar jumped to a two-week high following upbeat jobs data and as investors booked profits following a strong showing on Wednesday that pushed global miners like BHP Group and Rio Tinto to multi-year highs.

A stronger Aussie dollar reduces earnings for miners that export the vast majority of their U.S. dollar-denominated products.

BHP fell 1 percent, while Rio dropped as much as 1.4 percent as iron ore futures also ended a three-day winning streak on Wednesday, as the current profit-reporting season draws to a close.

“Most of the stocks have reported and they’re all priced quite highly so any weakness in iron ore or a stronger Aussie dollar will see these guys feel some profit taking,” said Mathan Somasundaram, a Blue Ocean Equities market portfolio strategist.

Oil and gas firm Santos dropped nearly 3 percent despite reporting a record profit on Thursday and with oil prices hovering near 2019 highs.

Gold stocks slid 2.6 percent, with St Barbara falling 6.5 percent.

Elsewhere, Australia’s flag carrier Qantas Airways Ltd fell as much as 3.5 percent after reporting a 19 percent drop in first-half profit as higher domestic and international revenue failed to offset higher fuel prices.

The result contrasted with rival Virgin Australia Holdings , which last week posted its best half-year profit in a decade. Virgin shares rose 2.6 percent on Thursday.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.8 percent, or 77.84 points to 9,327.28.

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare was the biggest boost to the benchmark, after agreeing with U.S.-based ResMed to settle all disputes over patent infringement. (Reporting by Nikhil Kurian Nainan in Bengaluru; editing by Richard Pullin)

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