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Australia: Shares inch closer to 7-year peak, NZ stocks steady


[SYDNEY] Australian shares rose on Friday, helped by a positive lead from Wall Street, with utilities and energy sectors making solid contributions as oil prices regained some ground.

The S&P/ASX 200 index gained 0.4 per cent to 5956.5 by 0411 GMT, inching closer to a seven-year peak of just under 6,000.

The benchmark dipped 0.3 per cent on Thursday, but was on track for a gain of nearly 1 per cent for the week.

Stan Shamu, a strategist at IG Markets, is sceptical the 6,000 barrier will be breached unless there is a strong indication of an imminent rate cut by the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA). The central bank held off on easing this week with debt markets giving a 60 per cent chance of a move next month.

"Over the next few weeks, it will be all about watching the futures market very closely to see the pricing for a cut and also watching data," Mr Shamu said.

Shares in Origin Energy rose 2.7 per cent while Santos was up 1.9 per cent following a rebound in oil prices.

Banks were also firm with Macquarie Group the stand-out performer, up nearly 1 per cent.

But shares in miners remained soft after Chinese iron ore futures touched a record low due to weak buying interest. Fortescue Metals Group was among the biggest casualty, down 2.6 per cent to reach a loss of 33 per cent for the year.

BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto declined more than 1 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark NZX50 index was fractionally softer at 5,841 in quiet trading, with a modest lift in a couple of top stocks and some demand for small-cap stocks supporting the market.

Mid-cap stocks bore the brunt of the softness, with Air New Zealand 1.8 per cent lower, along with the part-privatised power companies Meridian Energy, Genesis Energy, and Mighty River Power, which were between 0.3 and 1.7 per cent lower.

Pay television operator Sky Network TV was the best gainer among stocks with the biggest market capitalisations, rising 0.8 per cent on solid volumes.


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