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Australia shares close at near 2-year high on strong earnings; NZ firm

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares closed at their highest in over 21 months on Wednesday with financials leading the gains, helped by a rise in Commonwealth Bank of Australia shares after it reported robust half-year earnings.

The S&P/ASX 200 index ended up 0.9 per cent, or 53.86 points, at 5,809.1, its highest close since May 2015.

The benchmark finished 0.1 per cent lower on Tuesday, snapping five straight sessions of gains.

Commonwealth Bank, Australia's biggest company by market value, reported a 2 per cent rise in half-year cash profit, helped by home lending.

The stock finished at its highest in over a month, up 2.3 per cent and helped push the financial index up 1.7 per cent.

Financial stocks also drew support from US financials, which guided Wall Street to a record high overnight after Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said the central bank will likely need to raise interest rates at an upcoming meeting.

The Commonwealth Bank's 'Big Four' peers rose in a range of 1.3 per cent to 2.4 per cent.

The healthcare sector got a lift from a near 3-per cent rise in its biggest constituent CSL Ltd to the highest in six months after a rise in half-year profit that met expectations.

The biotherapeutics firm also reaffirmed its full-year profit forecast.

On the other hand, utilities and energy stocks posted some losses as oil prices dipped.

Origin Energy fell 0.7 per cent, while Santos slid 0.5 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index ended 0.4 per cent, or 21.9 points, higher at 7,180.03.

Gains were centred in financials and telcos.

Westpac's NZ-listed shares and Spark New Zealand were among the biggest gainers, rising 2.5 per cent each.


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