Australia shares pare gains after soft China PMI, earnings support

Reuters - UK Focus

* ASX 200 touches fresh six-year high, but China PMI dents uptick

* Earnings reports, Wall St support market

* 92 shares higher vs 98 shares lower, 10 unchanged (Adds analysis, quotes, stocks on the move)

By Thuy Ong and Gyles Beckford

SYDNEY/WELLINGTON, August 21 (Reuters) - Australian shares pared their gains on Thursday after a disappointing survey on Chinese manufacturing took much of the shine off a handful of strong earnings reports and Wall Street's upbeat performance.

The soft China economic report quickly ate into early gains that were spurred by minutes of the Federal Reserve's July meeting, which lifted U.S. stocks as investors were reassured that the central bank will retain its ultra-low interest rates for some time.

Miners pulled back from morning highs as a preliminary private survey showed growth in activity in China's vast factory sector slowed to a three-month low in August as output and new orders lost steam. ID:nL4N0QQ1S4] Rio Tinto (Xetra: 855018 - news) was off 0.5 percent and BHP Billiton Ltd added 0.1.

Australia is sensitive to economic news out of China, its biggest export market.

A continued streak of strong earnings kept the market above water.

Investment bank AMP Ltd jumped 3.6 percent to its highest since May 2013 of A$5.73 after lifting its underlying profit.

"We're seeing continued strong earnings reports coming through which is driving the market today," said Leanne Jones, an equities analyst at Bell Direct.

The S&P/ASX 200 index added 9.7 points to 5,644.3 by 0349 GMT, off a session high of 5,679.5. The benchmark rose 0.2 percent on Wednesday to cap a fifth consecutive session of gains, its longest winning streak since mid July.

Wesfarmers Ltd was a drag on the market, slumping 2.4 percent to A$44.56 after some analysts downgraded the stock after it touched a record high of A$45.88 in the previous session.

Among other earnings results, Origin Energy Ltd jumped 4.6 percent after Australia's biggest energy retailer by sales said its net profit climbed 40 percent to A$530 million.

ASX Ltd climbed 1.1 percent to A$36.99, its highest since March after posting a 10 percent rise in annual net profit.

In the consumer space, Breville posted the biggest percentage fall on the ASX 200, losing 16.1 percent, after the small kitchen appliances maker reported a drop in full year net profit.

New Zealand stocks notched modest gains for a third successive session, with the benchmark NZX-50 index rising 0.4 percent to 5,161.50, close to a three week high.

Top-stock Fletcher Building Ltd (NZSE: FBU.NZ - news) made further gains after the previous day's solid annual result, hitting a three month high before easing slightly to be 1.8 percent higher at NZ$9.34.

Telecoms provider Spark Ltd edged up 0.7 percent to a three-week high of NZ$2.935 ahead of its annual result on Friday.

Investors applauded the result of Port of Tauranga Ltd (Other OTC: PTAUY - news) , the country's biggest export port. The tightly held company was up 3.9 percent to a record NZ$15.90, as it lifted earnings and said it expected further growth. (Editing by Shri Navaratnam)