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Australia shares end higher on financials; NZ falls most in 3 months

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares closed at a near two-year high on Thursday, as the drag in the telecom sector was offset by gains in financial and material stocks.

The S&P/ASX 200 index ended 0.1 per cent higher, or 7.23 points, at 5,816.3, its highest close since May 5, 2015. In the previous session, the benchmark finished up 0.9 per cent.

The financials index rose to its highest in over a month.

Stocks tracked Wall Street as the US market indexes pushed further into record-high territory on Wednesday, helped by upbeat retail sales data for January and ongoing optimism that President Donald Trump will cut corporate taxes.

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Three of the "Big 4" banks climbed to a five-week high, while ANZ edged up 0.77 per cent, its highest since Jan. 17.

S&P/ASX 200 materials index soared to more-than-two-year high, as heavyweights BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto gained more than 1 per cent each.

Healthcare stocks lent further support to gains.

CSL Ltd added 3.5 per cent, extending gains after it reported strong half-year earnings on Wednesday.

On the other hand, the telecom index dived 6.4 per cent to its biggest closing low since Nov. 16, 2016, after Telstra Corp, Australia's largest telecom company, recorded a plunge in half-year profit.

Shares in Telstra hit their lowest in three months.

Vocus Group lost 4.7 per cent and Australian shares in Spark New Zealand slid to their lowest in more than three weeks.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index ended down 1.1 per cent, or 80.05 points, at 7,099.98, posting its sharpest single-day drop since Nov 9, 2016.

The index posted its biggest per centage drop since November as consumer confidence in New Zealand slipped in February.

Telecoms, utilities and material stocks dragged the index down, with Spark New Zealand shedding 4 per cent while Fletcher Building dropped 2.7 per cent.

Power generation company Meridian Energy hit a two-week low of 2.2 per cent.


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