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Australia shares firm ahead of US presidential debate; NZ down


[SYDNEY] Australian shares rose on Monday as investors count down to the second of three presidential debates between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican rival Donald Trump.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose as much as 27.3 points, or 0.5 per cent, to 5,494.7, its highest in over a month.

Mrs Clinton leads Mr Trump by 5 percentage points among likely voters, according to the Reuters/Ipsos national tracking poll released Friday.

Mr Trump, facing eroding support from his party over lewd remarks about women, goes into the presidential debate needing to demonstrate he remains a credible candidate.

"A Trump victory, if it were to occur, would seem as a bit of a risk to markets, so now there is probably a relatively lower probability," said Heuristic Investment Systems co-founder Damien Hennessy.

"So, to the extent that the probability of a victory there has been diminished then yes I guess it is marginally positive for markets," Mr Hennessy added.

Stocks were also weighed by news the US economy created 156,000 jobs last month, shy of the estimate for 175,000, while the unemployment rate ticked up to 5 per cent. The slowdown was not expected to prevent the Federal Reserve from raising interest rates later this year.

Financial stocks and materials accounted for about three quarters of the gains on the S&P/ASX 200 benchmark. Australia's "Big Four" banks climbed from 0.4 per cent to 1 per cent.

Global miner BHP Billiton gained as much as 1.4 per cent, while its spin-off South32 rose 3.3 per cent before paring gains.

Gold miners Newcrest Mining Ltd, Evolution Mining Ltd and Northern Star Resources Ltd rose between 1-2 per cent on gold prices. Spot gold was up 0.41 per cent as at 2335 GMT.

Bucking the trend, energy companies Santos Ltd and Beach Energy Ltd dragged the energy benchmark lower after oil ended down 1 per cent on Friday, snapping a week-long Opec-fuelled rally.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index slipped for a fifth straight session, down 0.28 per cent or 20-points, at 7,148.45.

Declining issues outpaced advancers on the New Zealand exchange by a 1.8-to-1 ratio.

Industries were the biggest drag on the benchmark, with Property For Industry Ltd and Auckland International Airport Ltd among top losers, falling about 2 per cent each.