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Australia shares end higher on strong earnings; NZ inches up

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares finished higher on Thursday as upbeat earnings from local firms and US retailers lifted sentiment even as many investors remained anxious about the outlook for economic growth.

Helped by overnight gains on Wall Street, the S&P/ASX 200 index closed up 0.3 per cent at 6,501.80. The benchmark had declined 0.9 per cent on Wednesday following a 2.2 per cent gain over the first two trading sessions of the week.

The solid corporate earnings provide much-needed relief to financial markets which have been roiled over recent months by the Sino-US trade war and the broadening economic fallout of the dispute.

The energy sector, which has put on more than 5 per cent so far this week, thanks to stronger oil, led the gains with gas firm Santos Ltd and electricity & gas retailer Origin Energy Ltd anchoring the sub-index's 1.4 per cent gain.

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Market voices on:

"The push in the market is definitely coming from the oil and gas sector. It has been a bit sold down. The jump is not significant but there is just some recovery happening in the market," said CPS Capital associate director Dale Raynes.

Santos closed 3.5 per cent higher after country's No 2 independent gas producer posted a 89 per cent jump in half-year profit, boosted by its acquisition of Quadrant Energy and strong output from its Cooper Basin fields in South Australia.

Origin Energy finished up 2.4 per cent after it reported a 41.6 per cent rise in its annual underlying profit, helped by robust production at its Australia Pacific LNG project.

Retailer Coles Group ended 2 per cent higher as the announcement of a special dividend along with strong online sales overshadowed an annual profit drop.

Australia's largest airline Qantas Airways Ltd posted a 1.4 per cent gain in a highly volatile session for the stock as investors cheered its A$400 million (S$375.2 million) share buyback announcement, putting behind the disappointing earnings results.

Financials, a major benchmark constituent, gained 0.5 per cent with all the "Big Four" banks eking out gains.

However, the Metals and Mining index lost 0.4 per cent, pulled down mainly by gold stocks, while diversified mining giants BHP Group posted marginal losses.

Miner South32 Ltd closed 4.4 per cent lower after reporting a 25 per cent drop in annual underlying profit.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.1 per cent to 10,725.22, led by energy retailer Mercury NZ Ltd and adventure goods retailer Kathmandu Holdings Ltd, with more than 3 per cent gains each.

REUTERS