December 7, 2017 / 1:21 AM / in 11 days

Banks buoy Australia shares; New Zealand rebounds form 3-day fall

Dec 7 (Reuters) - Banks led Australian shares slightly higher on Thursday after three straight losing sessions, with investors shrugging off an October trade surplus that came in well below expectations.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was up 0.4 percent, or 23.994 points at 5,969.7 by 0054 GMT. The benchmark lost 0.4 percent on Wednesday. Advances of between 0.2 percent and 1.5 percent by the ‘Big four’ banks pushed up the benchmark.

Otherwise, gains on the benchmark fairly broad-based, although miners BHP Billiton, which has significant oil interests, and South32 dragged, falling 1.2 percent and 0.2 percent, respectively, tracking overnight losses in iron ore and oil prices.

“There are bargain hunters in the market. So there is underlying strength as it appears that there are investors who are willing to get into the market now,” said Michael McCarthy, Chief market strategist at Blue Ocean Equities.

Australia posted a A$105 million ($79.31 million) trade surplus in October, way below the A$1.38 billion surplus forecast by a Reuters poll. The disappointing trade performance followed third quarter gross domestic product data released on Wednesday that showed economic growth slightly below expectations.

Elsewhere on the board, Retailer Wesfarmers rose 0.6 percent and healthcare stock CSL Ltd firmed 0.4 percent.

And the operator of the main bourse ASX Ltd gained as much as 0.9 percent after it said it was replacing its registry, settlement and clearing system with blockchain technology to cut costs.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index edged up 6.33 points, or 0.07 percent, to 8,136.64, snapping three straight sessions of losses.

Fletcher Building and Contact Energy provided the biggest boost to the index up 2.5 percent and 0.9 percent, respectively.

On the losing side, a2 Milk declined 2.9 percent. The milk company said on Thursday that it had reached a settlement with Australian dairy firm Lion Dairy & Drinks Pty Ltd over allegations of misleading packaging and advertising.

For more individual stocks activity click on ($1 = 1.3240 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Susan Mathew in Bengaluru; additional reporting by Sumeet Gaikwad; Editing by Simon cameron-Moore)

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