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Australia: Shares inch higher on financials, tech; NZ slips

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Australian shares edged higher on Wednesday helped by financial and technology stocks amid cautious trading, even as investors kept a wary eye on the fast-spreading coronavirus.

[BENGALURU] Australian shares edged higher on Wednesday helped by financial and technology stocks amid cautious trading, even as investors kept a wary eye on the fast-spreading coronavirus.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.5 per cent to close at 7,031.50, following a 1.4 per cent fall on Tuesday.

Markets across the world stabilised as the head of the World Health Organization and China President Xi Jinping expressed confidence in the country's ability to stem the virus outbreak.

"Markets pulled back from escalating risk aversion overnight as numbers on the death toll and infections from Coronavirus steadied," analysts at Mizuho wrote in a note.

However, rising infection and casualty count over the next few days and weeks will strain some of the relief moves witnessed, the note said.

China's death toll from the virus has risen to 132 with nearly 1,500 new cases, heaping pressure on Beijing to control the disease, which has curbed travel and prompted businesses to close operations.

Australian financial stocks finished 1 per cent higher, propped up by the Big Four banks, as an immediate rate cut by the central bank appeared less likely, following quarterly inflation data.

Australian inflation ticked 0.7 per cent higher in the final quarter of 2019, higher than forecasts of a 0.6 per cent increase.

"We don't think the RBA (Reserve Bank of Australia) will respond to this until trimmed mean inflation starts to pick up considerably... this cements our view that a RBA move next week is materially less than a 50 per cent probability," ANZ analysts said in a note.

Technology stocks advanced 1.7 per cent, tracking its US peers to rebound from its worst day in three weeks in the previous session.

Industry behemoth WiseTech Global Ltd ended up 3.5 per cent, while software maker Iress Ltd finished 3.4 per cent higher.

Drugmaker CSL Ltd firmed more than 1 per cent, helping the healthcare industry close up 1.1 per cent.

However, gains for Australian shares were tempered by a 2.1 per cent drop in gold stocks, as bullion prices were little changed after falling 1 per cent in the previous session.

Treasury Wine Estates Ltd recorded its worst ever intraday drop after trimming earnings expectations for fiscal 2020 and 2021, citing increased US competition.

Meanwhile, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index slipped 0.07 per cent to close at 11,676.51.

Air New Zealand Ltd and adventure goods retailer Kathmandu Holdings Ltd each fell about 2 per cent. 

REUTERS