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Australia: Shares rise as 'Brexit' fears retreat, NZ flat


[SYDNEY] Australian shares rose for a third straight session on Tuesday as investors grew increasingly optimistic that the United Kingdom will vote to stay in the European Union later this week.

After months of uncertainty about the crucial poll on June 23, recent polls have suggested that the UK will opt to remain in the trading bloc.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was up 23.6 points, or 0.5 per cent, at 5,280.4 by 0205 GMT. After losing ground amid fears of a "Brexit", the benchmark has risen nearly three per cent in four sessions.

"There's comments from both sides about how bad it's going to be, but I think it will cause some volatility if they do vote to leave, and I don't think it's been priced into the market," said Lonsec Stockbroking equity strategist Danial Moradi.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia led the banks higher, up 1.4 per cent, while Westpac Banking Corp, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group and National Australia Bank were all up just under one per cent.

Macquarie Group, Australia's biggest investment bank, rose 2.1 per cent.

Health stocks were also in positive territory. Blood plasma products company CSL rose nearly one per cent, while Sonic Health added 3 per cent and hospital operator Healthscope rose 1.6 per cent.

Resources companies fell in line with weaker commodities prices. Rio Tinto dipped 1.6 per cent while rival BHP Billiton declined one per cent. Iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group dropped 3.7 per cent.

Energy stocks lost ground after the oil price fell, with Woodside Petroleum down 2.8 per cent, Origin Energy off by 1.9 per cent and Oil Search down 1.6 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was largely unchanged, up one point at 6,876.51 in extremely light volume.

While the campaign for Britain to remain in the EU looked to be gaining momentum, "people are sitting on their hands waiting for the result", said Hamilton Hindin Greene broker James Smalley.

The biggest gainers included Orion Heath Group, up 1.3 per cent. Earlier the company announced it would deploy its technology in Minnesota.

In the other direction, Kathmandu was down 2.1 per cent.