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Banks power Australia shares to over 1-month high; NZ also gains

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares rose to a one-month high on Wednesday, led by financials with Commonwealth Bank of Australia at the fore, while a string of strong half-year earnings lent further support.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was 0.84 per cent, or 48.258 points, higher at 5,803.5 by 0037 GMT. The benchmark snapped a 5-day winning streak in the previous session.

CBA shares saw their biggest gain in three-month after the top mortgage lender reported a 2 per cent rise in half-year cash profit, helped by home lending.

Australian banks took their cue from U.S. banks, which powered Wall Street to a record high overnight after Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said the central bank will likely need to raise interest rates at an upcoming meeting.

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National Australia Bank and ANZ shares added more than 1.6 per cent each, while Westpac Banking Corp gained 1.8 per cent.

Market movement is led by stock results; CBA and Computershare are higher as their results came in a bit ahead of expectations, while Boral is also up, said Bill Keenan, general manager equities and researcher at Lonsec.

"Overall, financials and materials are lending support to the market." Data processing firm Computershare rose to an all-time high after profit jumped 78 per cent for first-half, while Australia's largest supplier of building materials Boral Ltd hit a near 4-month high.

Boral reported net profit of A$153.4 million (S$167.2 million) for the half-year, beating a Morgan Stanley forecast for A$141 million.

Miners, rising on higher iron ore prices, also provided some support, with bluechips BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals Group both climbing over 1.3 per cent.

In the consumer space, Wesfarmers Ltd rose to more than a 3-month high after the conglomerate posted its highest first-half profit in more than a decade At the other end, Domino's Pizza Enterprises saw its biggest fall in three months, even after the retailer reported a 15.5 per cent increase in half-year profit. "Domino's trades at a very high multiple. There was nothing which we could actually see was negative (in results). Perhaps it's just that its Europe (segment performance) is tracking a bit below expectations," said Keenan.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 3:2 ratio, with 178 issues touching 52-week new highs against 151 touching 52-week new lows.

A survey showed Australia's consumer sentiment rose 2.3 per cent in February, after rising just 0.1 per cent in January.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index gained 0.5 per cent, or 35.27 points to 7,186.16. The benchmark touched a 4-month high Telecom and material stocks led the gains, with Fletcher Building and Spark New Zealand rising 1 per cent and 2 per cent, respectively.

REUTERS

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