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Australia: Shares end higher on Wesfarmers' spinoff plan; NZ at record

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[BENGALURA] Australian shares snapped a three-session losing streak on Friday as retail giant Wesfarmers soared after announcing plans to spin off its Coles supermarket division, but broader gains were capped by further weakness in banks.

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed 0.5 per cent higher or 28.6 points at 5949.4, but finished the week down 0.2 per cent.

The benchmark fell 0.2 per cent on Thursday.

Investors flocked to Wesfarmers' stock after it announced plans to spin off its Coles supermarket, which earns far less than it costs to run, and list it on the Australian Securities Exchange.

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Wesfarmers shares gained as much as 7.4 per cent at one point and ended 6.3 per cent higher at its best in over a month, while rival Woolworths rose 1.3 per cent.

Adding to the sector's cheer, fashion retailer Premier Investments rose 6.1 per cent to its highest since October 2016 after reporting a 9.4 per cent rise in first-half profit.

Materials stocks also buoyed the index, riding on strong metal prices, with the mining index gaining 1 per cent, its best close in a week.

Top miners BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto rose 1 per cent and 0.7 per cent, respectively.

South32 Ltd rose 5.6 per cent after Credit Suisse upgraded the stock to "neutral" from "underperform".

However, an index of financial stocks fell for the fourth straight session amid a government backed inquiry into the sector.

The "Big Four" banks fell between 0.1 and 0.6 per cent. The hearing on Thursday revealed Commonwealth Bank of Australia knew that a system of financial incentives to reward mortgage brokers could hurt customers but failed to act.

Australia and New Zealand Banking Group said it will suspend its retail asset finance business in Australia while it undertakes a review.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index reversed early losses to close at a record, and ended its second straight week higher.

Healthcare and consumer discretionary stocks accounted for most of the gains on the index.

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corporation Ltd was the biggest contributor to the index, closing 1.2 higher.

Construction firm Fletcher Building Ltd surrendered early gains to close 0.3 per cent lower after issuing shares to certain executives.

REUTERS