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Australia shares higher led by financials, materials; NZ up

[BENGALURU] Australian shares were higher on Thursday as investors bought into sectors such as financials and materials which had recently come under heavy selling.

The S&P/ASX 200 index gained 0.7 per cent, or 38.379 points, to 5708.1 by 0310 GMT. "What's popular today is what was least popular during the selloff in the first three days this week, when financial, healthcare and materials stocks were under a lot of pressure,"said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets. "What we're seeing now is buying into the weaker stocks."

The financial index gained 0.7 per cent in line with a rise on Wall Street's S&P 500 Financial index The country's big four banks advanced between 0.5 per cent and 1 per cent, with Commonwealth Bank of Australia up as much as 0.8 per cent after trading at a nine-month low earlier in the week.

CBA shares fell after the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) on Monday said it would establish an inquiry into the bank, following its alleged breaches of money-laundering and counter-terrorism finance rules.

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The material index climbed 0.9 per cent with Rio Tinto up as much as 1.7 per cent and BHP Billiton Ltd rising as much as 1.9 per cent.

"I think the commodity markets are looking to the fact that the main reason commodity prices fell overnight was strength in the US dollar. There's no change to the demand scenario globally, nor any on the supply side," Mr McCarthy said On the losing ledger, energy stocks fell with the sector index dropping 1.5 per cent.

Gasoline prices rose as flooding from tropical storm Harvey knocked out almost a quarter of US refineries, while crude oil prices fell on the resulting drop in demand.

Woodside Petroleum Ltd lost as much as 1.7 per cent while Oil Search Ltd shares slid nearly 2 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index were 0.2 per cent higher, or 17.18 points, to 7,792.38. The index is on track to end its eighth consecutive month in the black.

Gains in health care and industrial stocks pulled up the index.

Ryman Healthcare Ltd rose 1.2 per cent and Auckland International Airport Ltd edged 0.6 per cent higher.

Skycity Entertainment Group Ltd fell as much as 3.6 per cent, weighing on the index.