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Australia shares eke out third session of gains; NZ up

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares closed slightly higher on Thursday, bolstered by gains in miners as market sentiment improved after China took steps to ease trade tensions with the United States.

The S&P/ASX 200 index ended the session up 0.1 per cent at 5,661.6, the benchmark's third straight day of gains.

As a part of pledges made when the leaders of the two nations met on Dec 1, China executed its first major purchase of US soya beans in more than six months, a commodity at the heart of the trade spat.

China also appears to be easing its high-tech industrial development push, dubbed "Made in China 2025", which has long provoked alarm in the West and much blowback from the United States.

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Australia's resource-rich economy is heavily exposed to the Chinese market. The metals and mining index was the star performer, rising 1.3 per cent, with diversified miner BHP Group climbing to a one-month peak, and Rio Tinto hitting a near three-week high.

London copper prices moved higher on Thursday, reversing a slide in the previous session, amid constructive developments in US-China trade relations.

Meanwhile, the financial index ended 0.5 per cent higher after rising as much as 1.2 per cent earlier in the day.

Australia and New Zealand Banking closed 1.2 per cent higher while Westpac Banking Corp fell 0.12 per cent.

Australia consumer sentiment for December rose 0.1 per cent on Wednesday compared to 2.8 per cent in November.

Greg McKenna of McKenna Macro, in a note to clients, said the Westpac consumer sentiment data on Wednesday was fairly benign because consumers do not fear an Australian interest rate rise any time soon.

Australia's central bank is seen likely to stand pat on rates at least until mid-2020, a Reuters poll showed, as a recent run of soft economic data quashed any probability of an earlier rate hike.

An interest rate hike is beneficial for banks as it allows them to earn more from the loans that they give out.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.6 per cent, or 54.81 points, to 8,793.17.

Seafood business firm Sanford Ltd was the top performer in terms of percentage gains, rising as much as 3.2 per cent.

REUTERS