March 7, 2019 / 12:59 AM / 7 months ago

BHP, Rio Tinto weigh on Australian shares; NZ slightly up

* Australian shares hover at 6-mth highs

* Rio Tinto worst performer on the ASX 200, trades ex-div

* NAB up 1 percent on chairman appointment

By Ambar Warrick

March 7 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose on Thursday, led by financials, but gains were pared by losses in mining stocks after a number of index heavyweights traded ex-dividend.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.3 percent or 21.4 points to 6,267.0 by 0031 GMT. The benchmark gained 0.8 percent on Wednesday and had ended at a six-month high.

Barring miners, most sectors were in the green as weak economic growth data on Wednesday fuelled speculation over a possible rate cut by the Reserve Bank to stimulate activity.

Australia’s trade surplus was higher than expected in February, data showed on Thursday. Commodities account for a bulk of the country’s exports, with China serving as a large market for raw materials.

Financials, the heaviest sector on the index, were higher on strength in the country’s big four banks.

National Australia Bank rose 1 percent after it named interim Chief Executive Philip Chronican as its new chairman after strong criticism from a financial sector inquiry prompted his predecessor to resign.

The financial subindex rose about 0.4 percent, and touched a five-month high.

Energy stocks were also higher as large oil and gas shares tracked a general uptrend in oil prices.

Woodside Petroleum, the largest stock on the subindex, rose about 0.6 percent, while Oil Search rose 0.9 percent.

On the other hand, mining stocks were the biggest drag on the benchmark, with the sector subindex losing as much as 1 percent.

BHP Group and Rio Tinto, the largest miners on the ASX 200, fell about 0.7 percent and 4.5 percent, respectively. Rio Tinto was also the worst performer on the ASX 200.

Rio Tinto had declared a bumper final and special dividend last month, while BHP had maintained its interim payout.

Manganese miner South32 also traded ex-dividend, dropping as much as 1.8 percent.

Metal miners were also pressured by a slight easing in commodity prices.

New Zealand shares inched higher and briefly touched a record high, although investors were left in want of fresh cues to spur movement. High valuations may also signal an eventual correction for the market in the near-term.

The benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.1 percent or 9.4 points to 9,424.4.

The New Zealand-listed shares of Westpac Banking Corp rose about 0.9 percent, while a2 Milk Co Ltd shed 0.4 percent.

Reporting by Ambar Warrick in Bengaluru; Editing by Kim Coghill

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