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Australia, NZ shares supported by Wall Street; QBE tumbles after annual loss

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[BENGLAURU] Australian shares edged higher on Monday, supported by strength on Wall Street after the Federal Reserve assuaged investor concerns over the monetary policy outlook this year, while domestic earnings continued provide trading catalysts.

"The gains are fairly broad-based and that's attributed to the strong lead we had from Wall Street on Friday," said Christopher Conway at the Australian Stock Report.

The Fed on Friday said it expected economic growth to remain steady and saw no serious risks on the horizon that might pause its planned pace of rate hikes, sending stocks higher.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was up 0.4 per cent, or 23.9 points, to 5,999.8 by 0056GMT, hitting its highest in three weeks. The benchmark closed 0.8 percent up on Friday.

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Eight out of ten sectors were up on the benchmark with the 'Big 4' banks driving gains, rising between 0.7 per cent and 1.1 per cent.

Energy stocks were also among the strong performers with Woodside Petroleum up 1.3 per cent thanks to strong oil prices, while material stock Bluescope Steel rose 4.4 per cent aided by a 23 per cent jump in half-year net profit and higher iron ore prices.

Consumer stock Woolworths rose 2.2 per cent, while telecom company Telstra added just above a per cent.

The telecom sector also got a boost from Vocus Group's 4.2 per cent jump.

The company on Monday announced the appointment of its wholesale and international division head as the interim chief executive, replacing current CEO Geoff Horth. It also reaffirmed its recently reduced guidance for the full-year.

On the other side of the spectrum, a drop of as much as 4.9 per cent in QBE Insurance weighed on the index as it reported an annual loss. The insurer said it would sell its underperforming Latin American business to Zurich Insurance for US$409 million, a stark contrast with growth plans of its global rivals.

Other losses included, a 0.2 per cent fall in BHP shares , while conglomerate Wesfarmers was the biggest drag on the index, down 2.6 per cent New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was 0.3 per cent, or 26.6 points, higher at 8,324.21, on-track to gain for a fourth straight session.

Dairy company a2 Milk and retirement village operator Summerset Group led the gainers, up 1.2 per cent and 4.8 per cent, respectively.

Summerset shares have been on the rise since the company reported a 54 per cent jump in full-year profit on Friday.

Rival Metlifecare was down 4.8 per cent after the company reported a sharp drop in half-year net profit on Monday.

REUTERS