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Australia: BHP, financials help shares snap 3-day losing streak, New Zealand flat

[BENGALURU] A surge in shares of BHP Group helped lift the Australian market and the resources sector on Wednesday after the world's biggest miner reported a rebound in iron ore output for the fourth quarter.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was 0.4 per cent higher at 6,668.60 by 0224 GMT. The benchmark lost 0.2 per cent on Tuesday.

BHP reported a rebound in iron ore output in the fourth quarter after a cyclone hit production in March, and forecast modest output growth in 2019/20 amid a surge in prices.

While the miner's output was soft year-on-year, it was up 12 per cent on the March quarter, which typically is the weakest quarter due to Australian weather conditions.

BHP's shares rose as much as 1.6 per cent, and the mining sector gained for a third straight session, thanks also to buoyant iron ore prices. "It is pretty clear from the rise in BHP that overall shareholders were pleased," said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

"In particular, the upward revision of estimates for 2020 production must have really impressed investors and that is why we are such buying interest."

Despite a pull-back in iron ore prices on Wednesday from record highs in the previous session, BHP's smaller rival Rio Tinto gained 0.6 per cent.

Fortescue, which mines iron-ore exclusively, was over 2.3 per cent lower, however. The main board was also supported by a rally in financial stocks after two consecutive sessions of losses. Three of the nation's "Big Four" banks advanced between 0.3 per cent and 0.5 per cent.

Shares of Westpac Banking Corp were flat. The energy sector remained under pressure even though oil prices steadied after falling to more than one-week lows as US inventory data fell short of expectations.

The sub-index led the day's declines on the main board, falling 0.6 per cent, with its biggest constituents Woodside Petroleum and Santos Ltd shedding 0.6 per cent and 0.8 per cent respectively.

Their smaller sector peer Oil Search was off over 3 per cent after Papua New Guinea's new prime minister pressed the company and its oil major partners to pay more tax on Tuesday.

Oil Search is the impoverished Pacific island nation's biggest company.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was flat, adding 1.2 points to 10,652.35.

Gains in consumer staples and healthcare shares were offset by losses in telecom and discretionary sectors.

Pushpay Holdings, up 2 per cent, was the top advancer on the benchmark, while shares of Fletcher Building was the biggest loser, giving away 2.7 per cent.