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Australia: Stocks hit nine-month high, NZ up on banks, health care


[MELBOURNE] Australian and New Zealand shares jumped more than 0.5 per cent on Friday, spurred by the big banks and health care stocks, with investors undaunted by uncertainty over comments expected later in the day from US Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen.

After touching a nine-month high of 5,427.70 at midday, the S&P/ASX 200 index was up 29 points, or 0.54 per cent, at 5,417.10 by 0308 GMT, in a third straight day of gains.

Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, up 1.5 per cent, led the banks higher, while National Australia Bank was flat. "Beyond near term volatility, we still see shares trending higher this year helped by a combination of relatively attractive valuations, ultra easy global monetary conditions and continuing moderate global economic growth," AMP Capital's head of investment strategy, Shane Oliver, said in a note.

Markets are now looking to the revisions of US first quarter GDP data and comments from Fed Chair Janet Yellen at a Harvard University-sponsored event later on Friday. Ms Yellen's comments will be of particular interest given growing expectations the Fed could raise rates again next month or in July.

Among other gainers, top health care stock CSL Ltd rose as much as 1.6 per cent to an all-time high of A$117.61.

Gold miners were the biggest losers on Friday, with Northern Star Resources and Evolution Mining both down around 3 per cent, and top gold miner Newcrest Mining down 1.7 per cent, as gold prices hovered at a near seven-week low.

Among the mining majors, Rio Tinto slid 2 per cent after iron ore prices fell below US$50 a tonne for the first time since March.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 39 points, or 0.57 per cent, to 6.987.12 as investors were cheered by some positive company earnings.

Among the biggest gainers was Fisher & Paykel Healthcare , up 1.4 per cent after the company reported a 27 per cent rise in full year net profit to a new record.

In the other direction, the Fonterra Shareholders' Fund was down 1.8 per cent, as investors pondered a weaker-than-expected forecast payout for farmers from the global dairy giant.