Australia: Shares climb, on track for hefty weekly gain

[Sydney] Australian shares climbed 0.8 per cent on Friday, underpinned by financials after encouraging US economic data soothed global growth worries, putting the index on track for the largest weekly gains in two months.

The S&P/ASX 200 index leapt 40.4 points to 5,295.3 by 01:48 GMT. The benchmark ended 0.2 per cent higher on Thursday and looks set to show a 2 per cent gain for the week. "It is the first week of improvement in eight weeks, but the trend is still in a downward trajectory," said Steven Daghlian, a market analyst at Commonwealth Bank of Australia. He said investors were firmly fixed on comments from the US central bank, rather than profit results.

The Australian benchmark index has slumped around 6 per cent since September, weighed by a rise in bond yields and worries about slowing growth in China, Australia's largest export market.

Daghlian cautioned that weakness in China's economic growth data due out next week could further pressure markets.

In the Australian stock market, financials led the rally with Macquarie Group jumping 1.4 per cent and Westpac Banking Corp up 1.2 per cent to hit a one-month high of A$33.17.

Loss-making budget airline Virgin Australia Holdings Ltd edged up after it said it will buy full control of its ailing 60 per cent-owned Tiger Australia Airways business for just A$1, signalling plans to cut a bloated fleet that has hobbled turnaround efforts.

Commodity stocks underperformed with Fortescue Metals Group Ltd slipping 1.6 percent and Rio Tinto Ltd off 0.7 per cent. Miners were weighed by a sharp fall in copper and iron ore prices overnight. Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange hit their lowest levels in six months, pressured by global economic health worries.

New Zealand's benchmark NZX50 index rose 18.19 points, or 0.35 per cent, to 5,150.22, recovering from a two-month low of 5,097.08 hit on Thursday.

SkyCity Entertainment Group jumped 3.4 per cent to a one-week high of N$Z3.61 after an announcement by the casino operator of a jump in revenues at its Auckland flagship lifted shares from a two-year low of NZ$3.41 hit on Thursday. "It's definitely the performance of their key property which is Auckland. That will always underpin the stock," said James Smalley, director at Hamilton Hindin Greene in Christchurch.

He added that SkyCity's shares were also boosted after it said at its annual meeting that the recent slide in the New Zealand dollar against the Australian dollar was reducing the the impact the New Zealand's dollar strength had been having on earnings from Australian operations.

The index was also buoyed by gains in Australian banks which are dual-listed in New Zealand. REUTERS

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