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Australia: shares end up on Wall St boost; NZ flat

[SYDNEY] Australian shares closed on a slightly firmer note on Thursday, tracking strength in US stocks on hopes President Donald Trump's administration may be making progress on a broad US tax-reduction plan.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.11 per cent, or 6.117 points, to end at 5,670.4. The benchmark lost 0.1 per cent on Wednesday.

Trump proposed the biggest US tax overhaul in three decades, calling for tax cuts for most Americans, but prompting criticism that the plan favours business and the rich and could add trillions of dollars to the deficit.

Financial stocks climbed 0.4 per cent, with the "Big Four" banks adding between 0.2 per cent and 0.6 per cent.

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Utilities also boosted the index, with AGL Energy edging up 1.7 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index narrowly snapped four straight sessions of gains, inched down 0.002 per cent, or 0.16 points, to 7,913.62.

The country's central bank on Thursday kept interest rates at record lows of 1.75 per cent, and hinted at a lower growth outlook due to headwinds in the construction sector, against the backdrop of political uncertainty from an inconclusive national election.

Earlier gains in consumer staples and information technology stocks were offset by losses in energy, utility and healthcare sectors.

The biggest loser on the index was Z Energy Ltd, slipping 3 per cent, followed by Meridian Energy Ltd which hit its lowest in nearly two weeks, down as much as 3.8 per cent.

REUTERS