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Australia: Shares up 1.8%, snap 4-day losing streak

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[SYDNEY] Australian shares snapped a four-day losing streak to jump 1.8 per cent on Friday after news of a ceasefire between Ukraine and Russia-backed forces, and Greece agreeing to talks with creditors over its debt problems.

A firm oil price and strength in other key commodities overnight bolstered energy- and mining-related stocks.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 111.4 points to 5,855 by 0023 GMT, its best performance since Dec 22. The benchmark fell 0.4 percent on Thursday. "I won't take today's rally as a sign of long-term indication of where the market is going," said Kara Ordway, market strategist at City Index. "It's going to be a tough year locally. Going into the end of this quarter, it wouldn't quite surprise me if the market claws back to 5,600-5,700. There are still big concerns in Europe," she added.

Miner Rio Tinto jumped over 4 per cent after it announced it would return US$2 billion to shareholders.

The Big Four banks, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, National Australia Bank, ANZ Banking Group and Westpac were all up about 1 per cent.

Energy stocks such as Karoon Gas and Santos were up 3-4 per cent as oil prices rose overnight.

Elsewhere, Newcrest Mining fell about 0.7 per cent as it fell short of announcing an interim dividend after half year profits dropped.

Major US and European equity indices rallied to multi-year or record highs on Thursday after a ceasefire between Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces was agreed, and after surprisingly aggressive stimulus by Sweden's central bank.

New Zealand stocks were firmer, driven by an improvement in risk sentiment and a strong gain for the leading stock Fletcher Building, sending the benchmark NZX-50 index 0.3 per cent higher at 5764.55.

Fletcher Building bounced 2.7 per cent higher to a three-month high of NZ$8.70 ahead of next week's half-year report.

Movements for most other leading stocks were slight, but jeweller Michael Hill International jumped 6.1 per cent to a two-month high of NZ$1.23 after reporting a 46 per cent lift in first half profit.

NZ Oil and Gas was 3.2 per cent higher at NZ$0.65, albeit on modest volumes, on the back of its bid through a subsidiary to take over Australian-based Cue Energy, which has a stake in a New Zealand oil field.

REUTERS