* Most catalysts have passed, markets now laying in wait – broker
* Financials dragged by insurers after QBE’s bleak outlook on Wed
* NZ index hits record high
* NZ Q3 GDP grows 0.7% Q/Q, faster than expected
By Rashmi Ashok
Dec 19 (Reuters) – Australian shares inched up in narrow ranges on Thursday buoyed by gains in technology and gold firms, with investors largely on the sidelines ahead of the Christmas break.
The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 4.5 points or 0.1% to 6,855.9 by 0052 GMT. The benchmark closed flat across Tuesday and Wednesday as well.
Many macro developments markets were expecting including Brexit and a trade truce have now been addressed, said Brad Smoling, managing director at Smoling Stockbroking.
However, markets are likely to remain on edge given the steep plunge U.S. stocks posted in December last year, as well as developments on the ongoing impeachment proceedings of U.S. President Donald Trump.
“The market is breathing a half sigh of relief, but is still very cognitive that we haven’t finished the year yet,” he said.
In Dec. 2018, the S&P 500 fell over 9%, hurt by an escalation in the Sino-U.S. trade war, U.S. interest rate hikes and slowing corporate growth. The Australian benchmark managed to escape with just a 0.3% drop across the same period.
Gold stocks recovered from early losses to add 0.1%, with Northern Star Resources putting on 2.2%, while Ramelius Resources added 3.1%.
Technology stocks rose 0.6%, helped by software maker Wisetech Global which rose 2.7% and Link Administration Holdings which added 1.7%. Xero gained 1%.
Meanwhile, financials traded flat, weighed by insurers a day after the index’s second-largest insurer QBE Insurance Group flagged higher claims payouts at its North American crop business in 2019.
No. 1 insurer Insurance Australia Group Ltd fell 1.7% while Suncorp Group lost 0.3%. QBE, however, managed to recover 0.5% after a steep fall in the prior session.
Offsetting the sector’s losses, wealth manager AMP, fund manager IOOF Holdings and investment bank Macquarie Group all gained more than 1% each.
Elsewhere, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index logged robust gains, adding 0.8% to 11,415.52 points, hitting a record high.
The index was boosted after data showed New Zealand’s economy grew at a faster-than-expected pace in the third quarter on robust retail spending, lifting sentiment.
Shares of Sky Network Television rose most, adding 5.6% after the television broadcaster agreed to buy entertainment streaming service Lightbox and merge it with its own entertainment streaming service Neon. (Reporting by Rashmi Ashok in Bengaluru; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)