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Australia: Shares up ahead of central bank policy review; NZ steady

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[SYDNEY] Australian shares rose 0.5 per cent on Tuesday as resources and energy firms benefited from rising commodity prices and optimism on Wall Street after Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen gave an upbeat assessment of the US economy.

Investors were also watching out for the Reserve Bank of Australia's (RBA) monthly policy outcome due out later in the session. The central bank is seen certain to hold rates at a record low of 1.75 per cent following a cut in May.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 24.58 points to 5,385 by 0228 GMT. The benchmark ended up 0.8 on Monday, within reach of a recent nine-month high of 5,427.7.

Overnight, US stocks rose as Ms Yellen remained upbeat about the overall US economic outlook and said interest rate hikes are coming, but she gave no fresh hints about timing.

"With commodities-linked plays rallying and yield plays back in focus due to the likelihood of further Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) cuts locally, we finally have a platform for the Aussie market to break higher," said Chris Conway, head of research at Australian Stock Report.

Mr Conway expects the market to break above 5400 if data from China is supportive.

Major miners BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto rallied 3.4 per cent and 2.2 per cent respectively. Fortescue jumped over 3 per cent.

Energy companies also added to gains with Santos rising 4.4 per cent and Woodside up nearly 2 per cent.

The major banks were mixed. Commonwealth Bank and Westpac rose 1.3 per cent each while ANZ slipped 0.2 per cent.

Estia was the biggest loser on the index after The Australian newspaper reported that the federal health department will audit the healthcare provider over aged-care claims. Its shares slipped over 9 per cent in mid-day trades.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was largely unchanged, up 0.1 per cent or 8 points at 7,032.47.

Macquarie Equities Investment advisor Brad Gordon said trading was light as investors tread water ahead of the RBA and Reserve Bank of New Zealand rate decisions this week. He said the New Zealand dollar's strong rise against its US counterpart may be keeping some people on the sidelines.

Mr Gordon noted that Australia's market has started off higher, which could help bolster sentiment in New Zealand.

The biggest gainers were Comvita, which rose 1.2 per cent. In the other direction A2 Milk fell 4.6 per cent in light trade.

REUTERS