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Australia: Shares hit near 1-year high, NZ bourse holds at record level


[SYDNEY] Australian shares rose for a seventh consecutive session on Friday, driving the index to an 11-month high, while New Zealand stocks again reached record levels.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was higher 0.39 per cent, or 19.19 points, at 5,430.80 by 0200 GMT. The benchmark has gained 4 per cent this week, and is at its highest level since August 2015.

"The predominant theme in the market this morning is one of increasing confidence, particularly within the banking and energy sectors," said Gary Huxtable, a client adviser at Atlantic Pacific Securities.

"The confidence stems from the expectations that the Reserve Bank is open to further monetary stimulus beyond rate cuts."

The Reserve, Australia's central bank, meets on Aug 2 to set monetary policy and inflation data due next Wednesday will provide a clue as to its next move.

Gains on the Australian bourse were mirrored in New Zealand and across Asia, as a rally on Wall Street offset the impact on sentiment of an attack in France.

Financial stocks, led by JPMorgan, overnight led the S&P 500 and the Dow Industrials indexes to record highs.

On the Australian index, BlueScope Steel Ltd's shares rose as much as 8 per cent after hitting a five-year high in the previous session on earnings upgrade.

Whitehaven Coal Ltd's shares surged 10 per cent on news of record coal shipments, and that the company is on target to reach its profit guidance.

Financial stocks posted broad gains, with Macquarie Group Ltd adding 2.4 per cent, Westpac Banking Corp gaining 1.5 per cent and Commonwealth Bank, Australia and New Zealand Banking Corp and National Australia Bank Ltd all adding more than one per cent.

Defensive shares edged lower, with Newcrest Mining Ltd falling 2.7 per cent and Telstra Corp Ltd slipping 0.26 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index remained at a record high on Friday, rising 0.25 per cent to 7,098.30, as investors were cheered when financial stocks led the S&P 500 and the Dow industrials to new highs.

Among the biggest gainers, Xero rose 2.1 per cent and Stride Stapled gained 1.5 per cent.

Bucking the trend, Comvita shed 1.3 per cent.