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Australia shares end at 2-month high, but Brexit worry caps gains

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares gained for a second consecutive session on Wednesday, building on the previous day's rally driven by hopes of more stimulus measures from its biggest trading partner China.

The S&P/ASX 200 index firmed 0.4 per cent to 5,835.2 at the close of trade, its highest close since Nov. 12. The benchmark had risen 0.7 per cent on Tuesday.

The session's gains, however, were curbed as investors took to the sidelines after British lawmakers trounced Prime Minister Theresa May's deal to withdraw Britain from the European Union.

Investors will turn their attention to a confidence vote on Mrs May's government by lawmakers, scheduled later in the day.

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Mrs May's defeat overnight triggered political upheaval that could lead to a disorderly exit from the European Union on March 29 or even to a reversal of the 2016 decision to leave.

Financial stocks, the Australian benchmark's largest constituents, rose 0.6 per cent, lifted by lenders Westpac Banking Corp and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, which closed 0.9 per cent and 0.8 per cent higher, respectively.

Aussie technology stocks climbed 1.7 per cent to a six-week high, tracking a surge in Wall Street peers after streaming service Netflix Inc announced plans to raise fees for U.S. subscribers.

Data services provider Appen Ltd was the top per centage gainer among tech stocks in the benchmark, closing 4.4 per cent higher, while software maker WiseTech Global finished up 3.5 per cent.

Energy stocks also lent support with a 0.5 per cent gain, helped by strength in crude oil prices.

Oil prices were steady as signs of a global economic slowdown were countered by OPEC-led supply cuts which helped support Brent crude futures above $60 per barrel.

Energy services firm WorleyParsons topped the gainers in the energy sub-index, adding more than 3 per cent.

Losses in metals and mining stocks capped broader market gains, with global mining giants BHP Group and Rio Tinto losing 0.4 per cent and 0.5 per cent, respectively.

Gold stocks dropped 1.5 per cent, snapping two sessions of gains.

Major gold producers Newcrest Mining and Evolution Mining closed 1.5 per cent and 1 per cent lower, respectively.

Elsewhere, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index closed 0.7 per cent higher to finish the session at 9,027.44.

Dairy company A2 Milk gained 3.9 per cent to a near 4-month high, while Synlait Milk strengthened 3.3 per cent.

REUTERS