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Australia: Shares buoyed by miners, energy stocks; New Zealand flat

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[BENAGLURU] Australian shares steadied on Friday as miners rose on stronger commodity prices while energy firms gained on the risk of supply disruptions following attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.1 per cent to 6,548.6 by 0205 GMT. The benchmark ended flat on Thursday but is set for a 1.6 per cent gain this week.

Energy stocks gained up to 2.1 per cent as oil prices rose overnight after attacks on two oil tankers near Iran and the Strait of Hormuz stoked concerns of reduced crude trade flows through one of the world's key shipping routes.

Woodside Petroleum and Oil Search each added as much as 2.6 per cent.

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The mining index advanced 2.1 per cent to its highest in more than seven-and-a-half years, and was on track to gain 5.5 per cent this week.

China's iron ore prices rose to a new high in the previous session on demand concerns, while hopes of Beijing introducing further stimulus to shore up the economy also supported the commodity.

Diversified miners BHP Group and Rio Tinto climbed 1.9 per cent and 3.1 per cent, respectively. The world's No.4 iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group jumped 4.7 per cent and was the best performer on the Australian benchmark.

Copper and gold prices also gained as weak US economic data fanned hopes of interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve.

Gold miners Newcrest Mining and Evolution Mining added up to 2 per cent and 2.3 per cent, respectively.

Financials limited the benchmark's gains, declining up to 1.2 per cent as the Australian dollar weakened and regulators increased scrutiny on the sector this week.

Mixed domestic jobs data on Thursday stoked expectations of the central bank cutting rates further this year which weighed on the Aussie dollar.

A weaker Aussie dollar and increased bets of a rate cut by the Reserve Bank of Australia weighed on the index, said Mathan Somasundaram, Market Portfolio Strategist at Blue Ocean Equities.

Investors looking to reduce their exposure to the currency will sell off heavily traded bank stocks.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia fell 1.6 per cent and Westpac Banking Corp lost 2 per cent.

Wealth managers also declined with AMP Ltd dropping as much as 5.4 per cent after Australia's banking watchdog said it imposed stricter licensing conditions on the company's pension fund units.

This announcement came a day after the financial crime regulator ordered an audit of credit provider Afterpay Touch Group citing non-compliance with anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing laws.

Afterpay was the worst performer on the benchmark, declining as much as 7.1 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was little changed at 10,220.92. The index was set to gain 1.7 per cent this week.

Auckland International Airport slipped 0.4 per cent, while Spark New Zealand added 0.3 per cent.

REUTERS