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Australia: Shares touch 4-week high; NZ edges up

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[SYDNEY] Australian shares rose for a third straight day on Thursday, taking their cue from record closing highs on Wall Street after a perceived dovish statement from the Federal Reserve, with firm oil and copper prices also adding support.

The S&P/ASX 200 index edged up 0.3 per cent, or 18.875 points, to 5,795.5 by 0204 GMT, after hitting a four week high earlier. The benchmark closed 0.9 per cent higher on Wednesday.

"We had positive leads from overseas markets, good rallies in European markets and US markets, and the conclusion that markets have come to that the Fed's statement means that there is a slightly lower chance or a longer time frame for the tightening timetable," said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

Major US indexes scaled record peaks on a busy day of corporate earnings reports, as the Fed maintained its benchmark lending rate and said it was continuing its slow path of monetary tightening. It noted that both overall inflation and a measure of underlying price gains had declined.

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Oil prices rose to near eight-week highs on Wednesday, while copper hit a more than two-year high on expectations of solid Chinese economic growth and curbs on scrap imports to China that could boost demand for refined copper in the world's largest metals consumer.

Basic materials, financials and consumer staples led the gains on Australia's benchmark index.

The metals and mining index touched a 15-week high, with BHP Billiton Ltd, the world's largest miner by revenue, rising as much as 1.8 per cent, its highest in over five months, and Rio Tinto hitting more than a one-week high.

Fortescue Metals Group rose as much as 2.3 per cent after it reported higher than expected fiscal 2017 iron ore shipments and said it cut costs by 15 per cent in the fourth quarter amid a widening price discount for its ore.

Financial stocks headed for a third consecutive session of gains, led by Australia's biggest investment bank Macquarie Group Ltd, up as much as 1.8 per cent after it affirmed its net profit forecast for the year ending March.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index climbed 0.2 per cent, or 13.21 points, to 7,723.8 by 0204 GMT, touching its highest in a week.

Consumer staples and industrials outperformed other sectors.

Dairy firm a2 Milk Company Ltd was the top gainer on the index, hitting a record high.

REUTERS

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