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Australia shares finish near 2-1/2-year high; NZ falls

[BENGALURU] Australian shares ended near their highest level in two-and-a-half years on Friday, amid broad-based gains driven by materials and financials stocks.

Eight out of 10 sectors closed the day in positive territory as the S&P/ASX 200 index advanced 0.5 per cent, or 28.193 points, to 5,959 at the close of trade. The benchmark index rose one per cent for the week.

Materials led the upward charge of the index with metals and mining index climbing one per cent to its highest since August 2014.

Benchmark iron ore on the Dalian Commodity Exchange rose for a third day, gaining 1.1 per cent to 442 yuan on unexpected physical demand.

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Mining giant Rio Tinto Ltd rose 1.1 per cent to an over six-year high, while its peer BHP Billiton Ltd gained 1.2 per cent.

The Australian financials index firmed 0.4 per cent, with Westpac Banking Corp accounting for most of the gains.

Westpac, the country's No 2 lender, said on Friday it had agreed to sell its Hastings fund management business to a London-based asset manager, in the latest move by a big Australian bank to offload a capital-intensive division. Westpac closed the day up 0.8 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.22 per cent, or 17.940 points, to finish at 8,065.120. The index ended the week 0.25 per cent lower, registering a second consecutive week of losses.

Dairy firm a2 Milk Company fell 3.2 per cent and was the biggest drag on the index.

Conversely, Fletcher Building Ltd gained 2.6 per cent on Friday, its best day since Sept 25.