June 20, 2019 / 2:29 AM / a month ago

Australian shares eke out small gains as miners plunge; NZ dips

* Iron ore miners weigh on Australian benchmark

* Caltex Australia largest intraday loser

* NZ stocks ease as rate cut hopes diminish

By Ambar Warrick

June 20 (Reuters) - Australian shares edged up on Thursday, tracking the broader global rally after the U.S central bank signalled possible interest rate cuts although wider gains were capped by a weaker mining sector on concerns about increased iron ore supply.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.2%, or 10.60 points, to 6,658.30 by 0152 GMT, its strongest level since December 2007. The benchmark added 1.2% on Wednesday. Financial stocks firmed 0.3%, tracking a widespread push among global equities after the Federal Reserve hinted at interest rate cuts as early as July due to growing external and domestic economic risks.

While broader sentiment was cheered by the Fed comments, a few heavyweight resources-oriented stocks capped broader gains.

Iron-ore majors BHP Group, Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals Group dropped about 1% to 4% after Brazilian miner Vale SA said it would resume operations at its Brucutu mine within 72 hours, and reaffirmed its 2019 sales guidance.

Vale’s return to form is expected to dispel concerns about a potential supply shortfall in iron ore, and will likely cause iron ore prices to retreat in the near-term. Australian miners had gained substantially this year after concerns over Vale’s supply had pushed iron ore prices to record highs.

Rio, which is the second-largest stock on the ASX 200 after BHP, saw its worst session in more than two years following a cut to its guidance on volumes of iron ore it expects to ship from the mineral-rich Pilbara region in Australia.

The metals and mining subindex fell 0.6%.

Fuel retailer Caltex Australia plunged as much as 24% after it said that its operating profit for the six months to June 30 would be less than half of what it was last year, due to slowing economic growth in the country.

Caltex’s rival Viva Energy Group dropped about 10%, while the Australian energy subindex fell 1.7%. Caltex was the biggest intraday loser on the ASX 200.

New Zealand stocks retreated slightly as steady first-quarter economic growth pointed to the central bank likely keeping the benchmark interest rate unchanged at its policy meeting next week.

The benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.3%, or 33.17 points, to 10,271.660, with utilities and consumer stocks declining.

Electricity retailer Meridian Energy fell 0.7%, while Fletcher Building dropped 1.7%.

Reporting by Ambar Warrick in Bengaluru; Editing by Sam Holmes

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