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Australia shares gain on Wall Street; NZ slightly up

[SYDNEY] Australian shares edged higher on Monday, with financial stocks leading gains, taking their cue from Wall Street which reached record highs on Friday.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.6 per cent or 31.777 points to 5,726.8 by 0230 GMT, on track to snap three straight sessions of declines. The benchmark finished 0.8 per cent down on Friday.

The "Big Four" banks gained between 0.9 per cent and 1.1 per cent, with National Australia Bank hitting more than a four-week high.

"Wall Street has been a positive leap for financials; all-time highs for S&P 500 and Dow 30 provides a strong backdrop for opening in the Asia-Pacific region," said Michael McCarthy, Chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

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"Futures-led buying seems to have lifted the financial sector and the evidence for that is we are seeing very weak volumes in the cash market and better volumes in futures trading," he added.

Energy stocks, the second-biggest gainers on the benchmark index, thrived on oil markets that remained near multi-month highs reached late last week as the number of US rigs drilling for new production fell.

WorleyParsons rose as much as 3.3 per cent, posting its biggest intraday per centage gain in over three weeks, while Oil Search Ltd hit its highest in more than two weeks.

Santos Ltd was up as much as 1.5 per cent.

The material stocks index inched lower but later recovered to gain marginally. Rio Tinto Ltd bounced back from early losses, rising as much as 0.4 per cent.

"The major weight on the materials sector are the gold stocks as a group, they are down two-thirds of a per cent where a lot of pressure is coming from," added Mr McCarthy.

Gold slipped to its lowest in more than two weeks amid a firmer US dollar, while prospects of monetary policy tightening in the United States ahead of the Federal Reserve's two-day meeting starting on Tuesday also weighed on the metal.

The Australian gold index dropped as much as 1.4 per cent to a near three-week high, heading for a third consecutive session of losses.

Gold miners Newcrest Mining Ltd and Evolution Mining Ltd fell as much as 1.5 per cent and 1.6 per cent, with the latter slipping to a three-week low.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.2 per cent or 15.24 points to 7,777.9, on track to snap four straight sessions of losses.

Financials outperformed other sectors on the index.

REUTERS