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Australia, New Zealand: Shares follow Wall Street higher

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[SYDNEY] Australian shares rose on Thursday, taking a lead from Wall Street and defying weaker-than-expected retail sales numbers, while New Zealand shares edged higher.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.4 per cent, or 22 points, to 5,487.2 by 0316 GMT. But the benchmark remained near two-week lows, after touching a one-year high above 5,600 earlier in the week.

"What we're seeing is natural profit taking at 5,600," said senior analyst Gary Burton at First Prudential Markets.

"It doesn't seem to be committed selling... we're also seeing a bit of hesitation in the market around reporting season as well." June retail sales rose 0.1 per cent, below the 0.4 per cent forecast.

Oil and gas producer Santos Ltd added 5.8 per cent after a 3 per cent surge in oil prices overnight.

Oil explorer and retailer Origin Energy Ltd rose 3 per cent and Beach Energy Ltd rose 3.8 per cent.

Miners, which comprise a fifth of the index, drove much of the overall rise, buoyed by iron ore hovering near 14-week highs.

Rio Tinto shares posted a 1.2 per cent gain, after Deutche Bank raised its target price for the stock.

The company on Wednesday reported its lowest earnings figure in more than a decade, but still beat analysts' expectations.

BHP Billiton and its spin-off, South32 each rose by more than 2.5 per cent.

Shares in vitamin maker Vitaco Holdings Ltd surged 21 per cent to six-month highs on news of the company's buyout by a China-led consortium.

However, profit taking sent the healthcare sector lower for a second straight session.

Aged-care home operators Japara Healthcare Ltd and Regis Healthcare both fell. Japara was off 2.7 per cent and Regis down 1.8 per cent. Fertility specialist Virtus Health was down 2.4 per cent, and blood-products maker CSL Ltd fell 1.5 per cent.

Shares in television broadcaster Seven West Media rose 6.6 per cent, partly recovering from a 26.6 per cent plunge since Tuesday.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.1 per cent, or 10 points, to 7,287.51, tracking modest gains on Wall Street.

The biggest gainers included clothing retailer Kathmandu, which jumped up 5.8 per cent after saying annual profit was sharply higher on improved margins.

In the other direction, Sky Television was down one per cent. Brokers said trading was very light as investors wait for corporate earnings, due through August.