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Australia shares on track for biggest weekly gain in two months; NZ weaker

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[SYDNEY] Australian shares climbed again on Friday and stayed on track for their biggest weekly gain in two months, led by financial stocks, as investors continued to welcome the US Federal Reserve's cautious approach to future rate hikes.

The S&P/ASX 200 index, which rose the past three days, was up 0.6 per cent, or 31.14 points, to 5,405.6 at 0230 GMT.

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday maintained the low-interest rate environment that has helped sustain the bull market for stocks since the global financial crisis.

Oil prices rallied again on Thursday, pushed higher for a second day by US government data that showed a surprising crude inventory drop.

Domestically, Reserve Bank of Australia governor Philip Lowe gave an optimistic assessment of the economy in his first public appearance on Thursday, but left the door open for more rate cuts.

The Australian dollar climbed to a two-week high of US$0.7638 following the RBA governor's upbeat views.

"If you are an international fund manager, you can look much more positively at the Australian market because the income that you are buying is actually appreciating in Australian dollar terms," said Chris Weston, chief market strategist at IG Markets. "So we got that kind of perfect storm in the Australian market to outperform," he said.

Financial stocks accounted for nearly half of Friday's gains on the benchmark. National Australia Bank, the biggest lender, advanced for an eighth straight session, rising 1.6 per cent.

Iluka Resources Ltd was the top percentage gainer, jumping as much as 6.4 per cent.

Logistics provider Brambles Ltd snapped two sessions of losses to rise 2 per cent.

Mining giant Rio Tinto Ltd extended gains into a fourth day, climbing as much as 1.4 per cent to touch a near one-month high.

At the other end, gold stocks slid more than 2 per cent as spot gold inched lower. Newcrest Mining Ltd fell 2 per cent, erasing recent gains.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index edged lower by 0.2 per cent, or 17.01 points, to 7,294.7.

Industrials, materials and telecom stocks were the biggest drag on the index.

Air New Zealand fell as much as 3.2 per cent to its lowest since May while Heartland Bank Ltd skidded 3 per cent.

Orion Health tumbled 4.6 per cent to hit a more than five-month low.


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