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Australia shares nudge higher, NZ treads water

[BENGALURU] Australian shares ended mildly firmer on Wednesday as positive factors in overseas economies supported materials while a drop in retail-to-coal giant Wesfarmers dented gains.

In its 10th day in positive territory out of 11, the S&P/ASX 200 index rose 7.987 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 5,905.6. The benchmark rose 0.1 per cent on Tuesday.

BHP Billiton was the best performer while its South32 spin-off closed 3.2 per cent firmer, not far behind. BHP and the mining index were about one per cent higher at the end of trade.

"An optimistic growth outlook in corporate earnings in the US and optimism regarding US GDP (gross domestic product) data drove commodities," said Mathan Somasundaram, market portfolio strategist at Blue Ocean Equities.

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Oil prices hovered above a four-week high supported by Saudi Arabia's apparent determination to end the oil supply glut, while London copper steadied.

"It looks like the Chinese leadership is not going to change, so we should see some stability in China and we should see the same policies maintained," Mr Somasundaram said.

China's economy is expected to accelerate for the first time in seven years with growth forecast to outpace the government target, according to analysts polled by Reuters.

Australia's biggest company by revenue, conglomerate Wesfarmers slipped up to 3.4 per cent to levels unseen since June as its growth in its supermarket sales took a hit in the quarter.

Retail giant Woolworths also ended 0.4 per cent lower after recording its biggest intraday slip in 3 weeks during the session.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was flat, nudging 7.43 points lower to finish the session at 8,122.67.

Materials stocks accounted for well over a quarter of the declines in the benchmark, dragged primarily by Fletcher Building.

Fletcher dropped to its lowest and recorded its biggest one-day slip in 3 weeks after it forecast a substantial loss from its building unit would affect its 2018 financial year earnings.

REUTERS