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Australia: Stocks lifted by materials on higher commodity prices

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Australian shares recouped early losses and edged higher on Thursday as mining and oil stocks rose on the back of stronger commodity prices.

[SYDNEY] Australian shares recouped early losses and edged higher on Thursday as mining and oil stocks rose on the back of stronger commodity prices.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was up 0.17 per cent, or 9.625 points, at 5,778.6 by 0301 GMT.

The metals index rose 0.9 per cent, snapping two sessions of losses.

Index heavyweight BHP Billiton was the biggest gainer on the S&P/ASX 200, advancing as much as 1.1 per cent, following higher three-month copper prices on the LME.

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Adding to BHP's gains were oil prices, which rose in Asian trading on Thursday, ahead of the OPEC meeting which is largely seen centered on discussions relating to a production cut.

Oil majors Woodside Petroleum and Origin Energy rose around 1 per cent each.

The energy index jumped as much as 1.1 per cent, hitting its highest in 21 months.

Gold stocks also added to the upward momentum, tracking steady spot gold prices.

Perseus Mining rose 3.5 per cent, while OceanaGold rose 2.4 per cent.

Nickel miners Western Areas and Independence Group NL jumped as nickel prices climbed.

Weighing on the index, however, were financials stocks.

The financial index fell as much as 1.1 per cent to its lowest in more than five months. Westpac and National Australia Bank fell as much as around 1.5 per cent.

Australian bank shares have been whipsawing ever since the government announced new tax levies on banks, which could add up to a total of around A$1 billion (S$1.03 billion) in additional annual costs for the 'Big Four' banks.

"There's a debate aboiut what the levy means for banks' strategy going forward - do they pass it on to shareholders by decreasing dividends, do they increase loan rates, do they cut staff...those uncertainties are weighing on the sector, and dragging the markets lower," said Tony Farnham, economist at Patersons Securities.

Concerted efforts by Australian banking regulators to cool the country's red property market have also pressured banking stocks.

"Banks are stuck in a band with their main money maker, i.e.the housing bubble, running into limits...time to take profit and come back later when relative value returns to the sector," BlueOcean Equities said in a note.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was little changed at 7,422.16, up 0.005 per cent or 0.38 points.

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corp Ltd was the top performer on the index, followed by telecom services provider, Spark New Zealand.

Milk supplier A2 Milk Company was the biggest loser, down 0.6 per cent.

REUTERS

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