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Australia: Shares hit 3-month high on healthcare news; NZ notches 7th record day

[BENGALURU] Australian shares hit their highest in more than three months on Friday as healthcare stocks ticked up after the government announced reforms to streamline private health insurance.

The Turnbull government announced reforms which would allow insurers to discount hospital insurance premiums for people aged 18 to 29 by up to 10 percent to encourage younger Australaians to buy private cover.

Australia has universal health care for citizens and permanent residents but encourages taking up private cover as well to reduce pressure on the public system.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 11.5 points or 0.2 per cent to 5806.0 by 0117 GMT and was on track for its best week in 18. The benchmark rose 0.4 per cent on Thursday.

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"We've had an announcement of reforms to private healthcare, which is a heavily regulated sector. The reforms are being taken positively by healthcare insurers and other healthcare providers," said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

Sonic Healthcare Ltd hit a more than 1-month high, while Ramsay Health Care Ltd rose about 2.3 per cent.

Materials stocks also gained with the Australian metals and mining index rising about 0.3 per cent, with mining heavyweights BHP Billiton Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd both edging higher.

"Iron ore finally reversed its slide, and we saw good gains in copper and Zinc, which is bringing support to the material stocks," Mr McCarthy added.

Iron ore and copper prices rose overnight on optimism over demand growth in China, while gold climbed to a 2-week high ahead of US inflation data.

Financials see-sawed as insurers rose while other stocks fell after Australia's central bank on Friday warned that higher interest rates could hit heavily-indebted households.

Meanwhile, New Zealand shares rose to an intraday record for a seventh consecutive session, buoyed by information technology and healthcare stocks.

The country's political deadlock may ease on Friday with the kingmaker NZ First party set to hold a caucus meeting later in the day.

It is expected to finalise a decision on which party it will help to form a government, following an inconclusive election in September.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.3 per cent or 25.21 points to 8093.3, on track to end the week about 1.4 per cent higher.

REUTERS

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