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Australia: Shares hit near 10-year high; NZ falls

[BENGALURU] Australian shares extended their rally to hit a near 10-year high on Thursday, underscored by gains in material stocks and as investors bought on technical signals.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was up 0.2 per cent, or 13.44 points to 6,029.70 by 0034 GMT. The benchmark closed up 0.03 per cent on Wednesday.

The index rose as much as 0.4 per cent in early trading, bringing 2017's gains to more than 6 per cent after the S&P/ASX 200 breached the critical 6,000 level on Tuesday.

"We've manage to maintain ground above it (the 6,000 level) and that's giving a technical signal to investors that the index is moving into a new higher range," said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

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Materials were the best performing sector with mining stocks gaining as much as 0.9 per cent to touch their highest since Feb 2014.

LME benchmark copper rose 0.4 per cent to end at US$6,855 a tonne on Wednesday, while LME zinc gained 0.8 per cent to finish at US$3,192 a tonne.

Mining giants BHP Billiton Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd were trading 0.7 per cent firmer.

The financial index was down marginally as National Australia Bank, one of the "Big Four" banks, traded ex-dividend on the day, falling as much as 3.9 per cent.

"If NAB wasn't ex-dividend, the index would be 10 points higher and the financial sector will be up there leading the market as well," Mr McCarthy of CMC Markets said.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia rose as much as 0.8 per cent, a day after its quarterly results beat expectations.

In other stocks, building materials producer James Hardie Industries Plc was among the top gainers on the benchmark index, adding as much as 7.4 per cent, after it reported higher quarterly sales.

Shares of oil and gas producer Santos Ltd fell more than 4 per cent after said it aimed to cut its debt to US$2 billion by 2019.

The Australian gold index rose 0.3 per cent when gold held its ground after marking a near three-week high in the previous session.

Gold producer Alkane Resources Ltd drove the gains, advancing as much as 6.3 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.5 per cent, or 36.83 points to 8,004.19 after the central bank stood pat on interest rates.

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand said added fiscal stimulus and a lower local dollar would lead to faster inflation and likely to an earlier rise in interest rates, sending the currency sharply higher.

The index was on track to post its fifth consecutive session of losses, dragged by technology and healthcare stocks.

Accounting software firm Xero lost as much as 6.4 per cent, after it announcing it would delist from the New Zealand stock exchange.