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Australia shares hit 3-week high on strong commodity prices; NZ inches down


[SYDNEY] Australian shares jumped on Wednesday to their highest level in three weeks, as a rise in oil and copper prices boosted energy and material stocks .

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose one per cent, or 58.303 points, to 5,785.20 by 0312 GMT, after touching its highest intraday level since July 5. The benchmark closed 0.7 per cent higher on Tuesday.

"We have got the energy and material sectors up, and that reflects good rallies in base metals, iron ore as well as oil prices which were up more than 3 per cent in US trading day," said Tony Farnham, an economist with Patersons Securities.

Oil rallied on Saudi Arabia's pledge to limit crude exports to help curb global oversupply, while copper prices hit a two-year high on signs of demand from China and a weaker US dollar.

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The energy stocks index climbed as much as 2.9 per cent, posting its biggest intraday per centage gain in over seven months.

Oil explorer Beach Energy Ltd topped the energy index, hitting a 10-week high, while WorleyParsons Ltd and Santos Ltd gained as much as 3.8 per cent and 4.4 per cent.

The metals and mining index rose as much as 2.5 per cent, helped by the higher copper prices as well as strong gains in Chinese iron ore futures as investors refocused on China's robust steel sector.

Copper miner OZ Minerals Ltd was the biggest gainer on the mining index, up as much as 9.6 per cent, its highest in over three months.

Heavyweights BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto both touched one-week highs.

Underpinning the mood, data on Wednesday showed Australian consumer prices were surprisingly soft last quarter and core inflation rate stayed below the target for a sixth straight quarter.

"It was well below expectation, and just highlights doubts on any rate rises in the near term," said Peter Spanos, volatility risk manager at CMC Markets.

A protracted period of subdued inflation led the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) to cut interest rates to a record low of 1.5 per cent last year, and it has been on hold ever since.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.1 per cent, or 8.04 points to 7,705.02.

Strength in material and energy stocks was offset by weaker telecoms and utilities.

Electricity generator Genesis Energy Ltd was the biggest drag on the index, down as much as 2.5 per cent, its biggest intraday per centage fall in nearly four months.