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Australia: Shares climb, financials lead as Powell remarks eyed; New Zealand up

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares advanced on Wednesday as financials gained after S&P upgraded its outlook for the "Big Four" banks, while energy stocks firmed thanks to buoyant oil prices.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.6 per cent or 39.8 points to 6,705.5 by 0202 GMT. The index lost a combined total of about 1.3 per cent in the past two sessions.

Market focus will be on Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell's testimony before the US Congress on Wednesday and Thursday as investors look for clues to near term US monetary policy.

Markets are almost fully priced for a 25-basis-points rate cut at the end of this month, though more aggressive easing has been substantially pared back after strong jobs data on Friday.

Financials stocks underpinned the gains on the benchmark, with the country's "Big Four" banks up between 0.8 per cent to 0.9 per cent.

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S&P Global Rating upgraded its outlook for the "Big Four" to "stable" from "negative" after the financial regulator slapped less than expected capital buffer requirement on them.

Energy stocks also advanced, boosted by a more than 1 per cent jump in oil prices.

The country's largest independent gas and oil producer Woodside Petroleum jumped 0.9 per cent to a one-week high, while Oil Search rose 1.1 per cent.

Drugmaker CSL gained 0.8 per cent, boosting the health care sector, though mining stocks edged lower and capped the benchmark.

Red hot iron ore prices had pushed the mining index 7.7 per cent higher last month. Sector bellwethers are slated to report their quarterly production figures next week.

Australia's largest listed firm BHP Group and its peer Rio Tinto dipped 0.3 per cent each.

BHP on Tuesday said it began evacuating workers and reducing operations at two offshore platforms in the US Gulf of Mexico as a safety precaution ahead of an approaching storm.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index climbed 0.8 per cent or 84.44 points to 10,622.55, its sharpest gain in three-weeks.

Gains were broad-based, with dairy firm a2 Milk Company seeing its biggest gain since Feb 20.

REUTERS

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