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Australia: Shares hit 10-week peak, NZ firm as cautious Fed boosts commodities


[SYDNEY] Australian shares scaled a 10-week peak on Friday as a bounce in key commodities prices lifted mining and energy stocks, while New Zealand market extended its weeks-long march higher.

Overnight, the prices of major export commodities like oil and copper hit their highest levels in months after the US Federal Reserve said it would raise rates at a slower pace than planned, prompting hopes of a pick-up in demand.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose nearly 1 per cent in early trading but levelled out as profit-takers cashed in the gains, to be up 13 points, or 0.3 per cent, at 5,181.1 by 0101 GMT. Although US and Asian indexes entered positive territory for the first time in 2016, the Australian benchmark is still down 2 per cent for the year so far.

"You had everything up overnight, and then a good lead out of the US, but now everybody's taking profit," said Mathan Somasundaram, a strategist at Baillieu Holst. "There has been a bounce, but the strength and duration of the bounce has been quite surprising," Mr Somasundaram added, referring to the resources sector.

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Global miner BHP Billiton led its sector higher, up 4.5 per cent, while rival Rio Tinto added 3 per cent after announcing a CEO changeover a day earlier. Iron ore major Fortescue Metals Group surged 5.5 per cent, the second biggest gainer on the benchmark.

Energy stocks rose nearly as much, with Woodside Petroleum , Origin Energy and Santos all up more than 2 per cent.

The big banks were mixed. Commonwealth Bank of Australia rose 0.7 per cent and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group was up 0.5 per cent, while Westpac Banking Corp and National Australia Bank were flat.

Boutique retailer Premier Investments jumped 5 per cent after reporting a 26 per cent rise in half year net profit.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.2 per cent or 13 points to 6,586.43 as investors were cheered by gains on Wall Street.

The biggest gainers included Kiwi Property Group, up 1.5 per cent, after it said its financial result for the year ending March 31 was expected to contain a significant property revaluation gain.

Telecommunications company Spark added 1.2 per cent as investors continue to turn to high yielding stocks in a low interest rate environment.

Oil refiner New Zealand Refining remained under pressure, down 1.9 per cent. A day earlier, it reported disappointing throughput data for the first two months of the year.