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Australia shares end higher; NZ reverses losses before election

[BENGALURU] Australian shares snapped three sessions of losses to rise 0.5 per cent on Friday, thanks to strength in financial stocks, while New Zealand shares reversed losses to finish the session 0.3 per cent higher ahead of Saturday's general elections.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.5 per cent, or 26.68 points, to 5,682.1 at the close of trade, but finished the week 0.2 per cent lower. The benchmark fell 0.9 per cent on Thursday.

Banks and insurers lifted the index, with National Australia Bank posting its highest close in over a month, and Suncorp Group climbing 2.8 per cent to end at its highest since Sept 1.

"The Australian market has underperformed the region and the globe over the course of this week ... so there is an element of catch-up," said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

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New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index reversed early losses to rise 19.37 points, finishing at 7,814.78. The index ended the week 0.7 per cent higher.

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corporation led the comeback, rising 1.3 per cent to close at its highest in one week.

New Zealand heads into elections on Saturday, with a final opinion poll showing the ruling National Party's lead over the opposition Labour Party slipping to 8.5 points, meaning minor parties could well decide who forms the next government.

"A change of government would be of concern to markets ... the nine-year government that is in place has proved to be a steady hand through a number of major issues for New Zealand, including the global financial crisis and the earthquakes that have hit the country," said CMC's McCarthy.

"So I see the markets falling if there is a change of government."

Polls show that the election is too close to call, with votes of overseas New Zealanders likely to decide the outcome.

Overseas voting results will be published on Oct 7.

REUTERS