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Australia: Shares near 1-year high on miners, NZ stalls

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[SYDNEY] Australian shares rose to within a whisker of one-year highs on Thursday, led by gains in miners and speculation that interest rates could be cut as soon as next week.

The S&P/ASX 200 index added 0.4 per cent or 20.8 points to 5,560.5, near its highest since August last year.

Miners led the way thanks to higher iron ore prices, with Goldman Sachs lifting its three-month forecast for the steel-making mineral.

Fortescue Metals Group climbed 5.3 per cent to its highest in almost two years after lowering its production costs near to that of giants BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto .

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A slide in oil prices to three-month lows proved a boon to airline stocks with Qantas Airways adding 1.3 per cent. Virgin Australia added 2.3 per cent even after reporting its full-year net loss had more than doubled from a year ago.

Australia's largest investment bank Macquarie Group put on 1.4 per cent after affirming its earnings guidance for the current financial year.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was down 0.2 per cent or 12 points at 7,290.04 in muted trading.

Forsyth Barr Investment Advisor Dave Schaper said the market was consolidating after a fairly strong run over the past few weeks.

Investore Property was up 0.6 per cent after it said the expected closure of several Countdown supermarkets by Woolworths Ltd would not impact it. Investore's property portfolio includes a number of Countdowns.

The biggest losers include Steel & Tube, down 1.4 per cent.