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Australia shares end up, bank tax concerns limit gains; NZ down

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares ended higher on Friday, supported by the materials and healthcare sector even as the market continued to be dogged by concerns over a new bank tax that dragged down financials.

The S&P/ASX 200 index crawled 0.2 per cent higher, or 9.95 points, to finish the session at 5,715.90.

The benchmark lost 1 per cent in the week due to a slump in commodity prices, concerns over the bank tax levy as well a profit downgrade by Australia's No. 1 insurer by premium income, QBE Insurance Group's, which spurred some selling in the banking sector.

A second Australian state on Friday said it was open to charging its own bank tax, raising fears the federal government has opened a "Pandora's box" by slapping its own A$6.2 billion (S$6.5 billion) levy on major lenders in its May budget.

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This came a day after South Australia, the country's fifth-largest state by population, infuriated the banking sector by announcing a A$370 million tax on the five big lenders.

Three of the "big four" banks ended marginally lower while Westpac Banking Corp was flat.

Materials ended more than one per cent higher after oil, gold and copper prices rose on Thursday.

Anglo-Australian miner BHP Billiton Ltd rose 1.2 per cent while South32 Ltd jumped 2 per cent.

The healthcare stocks finished the session 1.4 per cent firmer. The index rose 2.1 per cent for the week and recorded a fifth consecutive week of gains.

CSL Ltd rose 1.7 per cent to hit a record closing high after U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved its therapy for prevention of hereditary angioedema attacks.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index ended marginally lower at 7,553.64, but capped off the week with modest gains.

Healthcare and telecom stocks weighed on the index while gains in the consumer discretionary sector cushioned overall losses.

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare lost 0.6 per cent and Spark New Zealand Ltd dropped 1.2 per cent.

REUTERS

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