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Australia: Shares end higher as BHP profits surge

[SYDNEY] Australian shares ended higher on Tuesday, supported by gains in materials and industrial stocks after BHP Billiton posted robust annual earnings and said it was putting its underperforming US shale assets up for sale.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 24.25 points, or 0.4 per cent, to close at 5,750.10, recouping its losses on Monday.

Materials and industrial stocks accounted for nearly half of the gains for the benchmark, with BHP Billiton and Sydney Airport Holding advancing 1.1 per cent and 3.4 per cent, respectively.

The world's biggest mining house, though missing forecasts, reported a five-fold rise in full-year underlying profit to US$6.7 billion and tripled its final dividend. BHP's Chief Executive Andrew Mackenzie said a number of parties are interested in acquiring the company's US shale business.

Elsewhere, upbeat iron ore prices lifted material stocks. Fortescue Metals Group and Rio Tinto ended more than 1 per cent higher.

Bucking the trend, consumer staples ended lower with Australia's retail-to-mining conglomerate Wesfarmers Ltd losing nearly 3 per cent and advertising services provider APN Outdoor Group Ltd sliding 4.8 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index finished down 0.70 points, or 0.01 per cent.

Gains in the utility sector were offset by losses in consumer and industrial stocks. Meridian Energy Ltd ended 2.2 per cent higher, while Fletcher Building Ltd was the biggest drag on the index, ending down 1.2 per cent.