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Australia, NZ: Australia shares reach 3-wk high, NZ touches another record


[SYDNEY] Australian shares climbed 0.4 per cent on Friday to a three-week high as all sectors but resources rose in low trading volume ahead of a weekend meeting of oil producers.

The S&P/ASX 200 index, which has gained the past three days including 1.3 per cent on Thursday, added 20.4 points to 5,139.0 by 0208 GMT. It hit 5,144.1 in late morning trade, the highest level since March 23.

"I wouldn't be surprised to see a bit of a deeper pullback (later today) given just how hard the local bulls have run this week," said Chris Conway, head of research at Australian Stock Report.

"Indeed, a pullback would probably be a healthy outcome."

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News that China reported annual first-quarter growth of 6.7 per cent, in line with expectations, had no impact on trading.

The benchmark is poised for its best week since early March, up over 4 per cent so far. The previous three weeks had losses.

Defensive healthcare stocks were among Friday's top performers with Ansell, Sirtex and Mayne Pharma up between 3.5 and 6.4 per cent.

Infant formula maker Bellamy's Australia rose 5.3 per cent after China clarified rules for online imports of infant formula, which meant the company could continue normal operations in the country.

China raised tariffs on online retail imports on April 8, but also published a "positive list" that tightened restrictions on some products including milk powder being imported through cross-border websites.

The move sparked sharp falls in the share prices of food and dairy companies in close trade partners like Australia as investors scrambled to understand the impact.

The Big Four banks including ANZ Banking Group and Westpac were mostly flat as investors remained on the sidelines ahead of earnings reports in early May.

Miners were in the red with Rio Tinto down about 2 per cent and Fortescue losing more than 4 per cent. BHP Billiton was an outlier, up 0.2 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index on Friday hit another record high, 6,840.04 points. In afternoon trading, the index was up 0.2 per cent or 15.4 points at 6,839.25.

The New Zealand market has hit records the past three sessions as investors look for yield in a low interest rate environment.

The biggest gainers included Vital Healthcare, up 1.4 per cent, and Sky TV, 1.2 per cent. Infratil was down 1.5 per cent.