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[SYDNEY] Australian shares edged higher on Wednesday after Wall Street jumped overnight, but the uptick was capped by losses in financial stocks as investors remained cautious before earnings reports from Australia's top banks later in the week.
JB Hi-Fi Ltd stole the spotlight, climbing 8.6 per cent to one-month highs of A$16.04 after the company said it expects to open a eight new stores in FY 2015, while its year-to-date sales were up 0.5 per cent.
The broader market was supported by gains in metals prices, which underpinned the resources sector - the best performing sector on the ASX 200.
BHP Billiton Ltd jumped 1.8 per cent, and top Australian miner Rio Tinto Ltd advanced 1.3 per cent. Among gold miners, Australia's top gold producer Newcrest Mining jumped 2 per cent.
Copper prices hit a two-week high, while gold finished firmer as softer-than-expected US consumer spending data pressured the dollar.
In the financials sector, which fell 0.6 per cent, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group slipped 1.4 per cent, while Westpac Banking Corp lost 1.7 per cent. National Australia Bank and ANZ are both due to report their full year earnings on Thursday and Friday respectively.
Investors are also eyeing the US Federal Reserve's two-day policy meeting, where it is likely to reinforce expectations it will wait a long while before rising interest rates, although the Fed is all but certain to announce the end of its massive bond-buying stimulus.
The S&P/ASX 200 index nudged 6 points higher, or 0.1 per cent, to 5,458.6 by 0136 GMT. The benchmark pared losses to close 0.1 per cent lower on Tuesday.
The benchmark index touched a trough of 5,122 on October 13, but has since climbed some 350 points on the back of a solid earnings season in the US and receding global growth worries. "I think a lot of the worries that emerged a month or so ago, turned out to be a bit of an overeaction from a fundamental perspective", said Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy at AMP Capital Investors in Sydney. "Bargain hunters have brought the market at the lower levels and that pushes higher." The New Zealand stock market was hovering at lifetime highs as largely positive earnings outlooks from companies supported sentiment, sending the benchmark NZX-50 index up 0.4 percent to a record 5,361.19, before it trimmed its gains slightly.
Top-stock Fletcher Building was up 0.7 per cent to NZ$8.43 after it closed at a 10-month low in the previous session.
A crop of annual company meetings saw telecommunications network operator Chorus reaffirming it will not pay any dividend while it awaits a resolution of proposed regulator price controls. It last traded up 0.5 per cent at NZ$2.08, its highest in 11 months.
Part privatised power company Meridian Energy was up 2.4 per cent to NZ$1.67 as it said it was comfortable with market forecasts of its operating earnings.