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Australia, New Zealand: Shares set to post weekly gains after Wall Street turnaround

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares edged higher on Friday in light end-of-year trade after US stocks reversed earlier steep losses although an absence of domestic drivers kept market moves limited.

The S&P/ASX 200 index gained 0.2 per cent, or 9.4 points, to 5,606.1 by 2357 GMT, its highest in more than a week. The benchmark climbed 1.9 per cent on Thursday.

All three major US indexes turned positive late in Thursday's session, a day after they posted their biggest daily percentage increases in nearly a decade.

The Australian benchmark is on track to snap two straight weeks of losses, as it climbs to its biggest weekly gain in nearly two months. Local volumes have remained thin during end of year trade and with markets closed for much of the week due to the Christmas and Boxing Day public holidays, and an early Christmas Eve close.

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However, as it approaches the end of December, the market is likely to finish the year in the red, wiping out all its 2017 gains.

On Friday, broader gains were supported by a 0.9 per cent rise in financial stocks, the benchmark's largest constituents.

The country's "Big Four" banks rose in a range of 0.6 per cent to 1.1 per cent, with National Australia Bank leading the sector.

Meanwhile, global miner Rio Tinto inched 0.1 per cent lower. The company announced it had deployed its automated heavy-haul trains at its iron ore operations in Western Australia, but added it does not expect to cut jobs in 2019 as a result of the project.

Energy stocks were largely unchanged after a tumultuous end to the year for oil which has seen prices fall drastically from the highs of as much as US$86 per barrel earlier in the year to languish at roughly US$53 in early trade on Friday.

Woodside Petroleum fell 0.4 per cent, offsetting gains by Caltex Australia and Beach Energy.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index picked up 0.3 per cent to 8,797.61.

Exchange operator NZX Ltd rose 2 per cent, while construction firm Fletcher Building gained 1.2 per cent.

REUTERS