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Australia: Shares lifted by iron ore miners, but Westpac weighs

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares advanced on Monday, led by top iron ore miners which found support from higher prices and hopes that a Sino-US trade could be signed by the end of the year.

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed 0.3 per cent higher to 6,731.4. It had risen 0.6 per cent on Friday.

Australia's three biggest iron ore miners, BHP Group , Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals Group , climbed between 1.8 per cent and 2 per cent, with Fortescue closing at its highest level since July 2008.

Iron ore prices jumped after 11 coking firms in the industrial city of Tangshan were ordered to be shut down due to environmental violations.

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Also supporting the benchmark was a 7.1 per cent rise in Afterpay Touch Group after an external audit found no money laundering or terrorism financing activity on its buy-now-pay-later platform.

AUSTRAC - Australia's financial crime watchdog - had ordered the audit earlier this year. It will now consider what to do with the findings.

In trade war news, US national security adviser Robert O'Brien said over the weekend that an initial trade agreement with China was still possible by the end of the year, but events in Hong Kong matter.

Westpac Banking Corp slid 1.3 per cent, falling for its fourth straight session. It has plunged 8 per cent since it was accused by regulators of contravening anti-money laundering laws 23 million times, triggering widespread criticism and calls for accountability by senior management.

Some investors said the country's second-largest bank needs to do more to ease concerns.

Its "Big Four" peers were in mixed territory with National Australia Bank closing 0.8 per cent, while top lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia up 0.4 per cent.

Gold stocks lost the most as trade deal hopes stirred investors back towards riskier bets.

Newcrest Mining fell 1.3 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index closed 0.1 per cent higher to 10,953.67.

Westpac's New Zealand listing fell 1.9 per cent, while a 3.7 per cent rise by Mercury NZ helped lift the benchmark.

REUTERS