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Australia: Shares advance, led by gains from financials; NZ soft

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[BENGALURU] Financial firms pushed Australian shares higher on Wednesday, in the wake of gains on Wall Street, as the market remained positive following the central bank's upbeat tone on growth.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.52 per cent, or 29.476 points, to 5,651.4 at the close of trade. The benchmark rose 0.1 per cent on Tuesday.

Wall Street edged up while the Nasdaq touched records on gains in big tech names.

Australia's "Big Four" banks dominated gains in the benchmark, creeping up 0.5 per cent to 1.4 per cent.

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On Tuesday, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) stood pat as expected at its meeting and said it expects the economy to get to 3 per cent growth in the next couple of years.

Industrials perked up, led by Cimic Group which climbed as much as 9.2 per cent to its highest in eight months after the contractor said it expected a "strong 2017" on accelerated infrastructure spending by state governments.

Global iron ore giant BHP Billiton closed 0.85 per cent lower after contract talks regarding Escondida copper mine failed to reach a deal. The workers union is set for a strike on Thursday at the world's largest copper mine.

With a strike expected at BNP's Chile mine, supply concerns helped copper prices rise, sending copper miner OZ Minerals up 2.9 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was fractionally lower, finishing the session at 7,066.27 as losses in material stocks offset gains in consumer discretionaries.

Fletcher Building, among top losers on the benchmark, closed 2.8 per cent lower.

Sky City Entertainment Group surged 4.2 per cent, its biggest gain in two months.

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) is expected to keep its cash rate at a record low 1.75 per cent at its first monthly policy meeting this year on Thursday, according to a Reuters poll.