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Australia: Shares nudge higher as RBA decision looms

[SYDNEY] Australian shares nudged higher on Tuesday morning, but stepped back from a fresh 7-year high as investors waited with bated breath for a keenly awaited policy decision by the central bank later in the day.

Analysts are split on whether the RBA will cut the cash rate again, following last month's quarter-point reduction to a record low 2.25 per cent. The decision is due at 0330 GMT.

By 0054 GMT, the S&P/ASX 200 index was up 0.2 per cent or 13.22 points to 5,972.1 points. It peaked at 5,996.9 points in early trade, the highest level since February 2008.

"It is very much playing the wait and see game in terms of the RBA rate decision. We are seeing some reasonable price action mainly centred around high-yielding stocks," said Ben Le Brun, market analyst at OptionsXpress.

"We haven't seen a high of 6,000 points since the global financial crisis. So, that would be, psychologically, a very important mark for the ASX to reclaim," he added.

Financials led gains on hopes of a rate cut with major banks, CBA, Westpac, ANZ and NAB rising 0.6-0.9 per cent.

Global miners BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto were each down more than 1 per cent.

Newcrest Mining, Northern Star and other gold companies were also in the red falling 2-4.5 per cent, with some of them coming off after a strong run.

Insurance group Suncorp Group Ltd fell over 3 per cent after it said its natural hazard expenses for the financial year will exceed the allowance set aside for such events.

OzForex Group rose nearly 5 per cent after it said it would move all services provided by Westpac to other banking partners.

New Zealand's benchmark NZX50 index slipped 5.1 points or 0.1 per cent to 5,887.55 in early trade, stalling after hitting a record closing high of 5,892.673.

Diligent fell 3.4 per cent to NZ$5.75 as investors continued to book profits after the boardroom services provider rallied to a near two-year high of NZ$6.40 on Monday following strong full-year profits.

Shares were also pressured after some banks downgraded their ratings on the software company citing their preference for others in New Zealand's growing technology sector.

Broader losses were offset by a 2.2 per cent rise in Warehouse Group to NZ$2.78, as some investors picked up shares in the country's biggest retailer, which hover near a 2 1/2-year low of NZ$2.59 hit in January when the company warned of a fall in first-half profit.