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Australia shares rise for third straight session as oil gains; NZ up

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares extended gains for a third straight session on Tuesday, hitting a fresh two-year high, as a rally in global oil prices continued to push energy stocks higher.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.5 per cent, or 29.116 points, to 5,942 by 0256 GMT.

Crude oil climbed to a five-week high on Tuesday, underpinned by a shutdown at Libya's largest oilfield over the weekend and on geopolitical uncertainty in Syria.

The Libyan outage added fuel to a rally that started late last week after the United States fired missiles at a Syrian government air base.

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While Syria produces only small volumes of oil, the Middle East is home to more than a quarter of the world's oil output.

In Australia, the energy index rose for a third straight day, touching its highest in nineteen months.

Oil major Woodside Petroleum Ltd was the top gainer, rising as much as 2.3 per cent.

Origin Energy Ltd climbed as much as 1.1 per cent, while Oil Search Ltd hit a six-month high.

The mining sector benchmark, on the other hand, slipped 0.2 per cent, weighed down by heavyweight BHP Billiton which fell as much as 2.4 per cent at one point.

BHP Billiton rejected a plan by activist shareholder Elliott Advisors to scrap the miner's dual company structure, split off its oil business and return more cash to investors, saying the costs would outweigh any benefits.

Elliott outlined the proposals in a letter to directors at BHP, adding the world's biggest miner to a string of firms where it has lobbied for action to boost shareholder returns, including Samsung Electronics, Akzo Nobel and SABMiller.

Financials outperformed, with the index at its highest in over a week. The "Big Four" banks gained between 0.4 per cent and 1.2 per cent.

"There doesn't necessarily need to be a reason why a sector's doing well, you just need a pension fund or a buy-side fund to say we're buying banks today and the market will be up," said Chris Weston, Institutional lender at IG Markets.

"There's good momentum in the banks, and what seems to be at the moment is if we're getting a flat lead in from Wall Street, we tend to see the market doing quite well and the banks are usually half the movement."

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index edged 0.2 per cent up, or 13.03 points higher, to 7,251.89.

Healthcare stocks and utilities led the gains.

Medical device maker Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corp rose 2.1 per cent, while Meridian Energy Ltd added 0.5 per cent.

REUTERS

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