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Aussie shares buoyed by trade surplus; a2 Milk and Spark lead NZ

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares rose on Thursday, buoyed by positive sentiment after January's trade surplus handsomely topped expectations.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.69 per cent, or 40.9 points, to 5,942.9 by the end of trade. The benchmark dropped one per cent in the previous session.

Australia posted a seasonally adjusted trade surplus of A$1.06 billion (S$1.09 billion) in January, beating a Reuters forecast of A$300 million, and in sharp contrast to December's A$1.36 billion deficit.

Financial stocks spearheaded gains, ending 0.78 per cent higher, with the 'Big Four' banks rising from 0.5 per cent to 1.4 per cent.

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Commonwealth Bank of Australia was the biggest boost on the benchmark, ending up by 1.4 per cent.

Biotherapeutics developer CSL ended 1.3 per cent higher and online job portal Seek climbed about 3 per cent.

Materials stocks were the only losers on S&P/ASX 200, with the metals and mining index falling by 0.6 per cent after the United States said it would slap heavy tariffs on imported steel and aluminium.

Shanghai rebar steel futures fell for a fifth session on Thursday to touch their lowest in almost two weeks. Shanghai Futures Exchange rebar futures were down 1.7 per cent at 3,873 yuan (S$806.4) a tonne by 0227 GMT Iron ore prices on the Dalian Commodity Exchange fell as far as 510.50 yuan per tonne, the lowest since Feb 2.

Mining heavyweight BHP Billiton was the biggest drag on the benchmark, falling for a second consecutive session and ending 2.04 per cent lower.

South32 followed, ending 1.57 per cent lower.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.9 per cent or 74.36 points to finish the session at 8,358.70.

Consumer staples led the gains with a2 Milk Company ending nearly 5 per cent higher.

Telecommunications operator Spark New Zealand ended 1.62 per cent higher.

REUTERS