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Australia shares produce solid gain, aided by China's pro-growth talk

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares ended firmly higher on Tuesday, tracking Asian peers, as the country's biggest trade partner China signalled more stimulative measures to tackle domestic growth worries.

The S&P/ASX 200 index, which fell the two previous sessions, gained 0.7 per cent to 5,814.60 at the close of trade.

China's state planner said on Tuesday it will aim to achieve "a good start" in the first quarter for the economy in a signal of more growth-boosting steps.

State television also quoted Chinese Premier Li Keqiang as saying the government is seeking to establish conditions helpful to meeting this year's economic goals.

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The economic health of China is crucial to Australia's fortunes, particularly with regard to export of metals and other resources.

Australian shares edged down on Monday after China released disappointing December trade figures with both exports and imports contracting amid a months-long trade dispute with the United States.

China's pro-growth statements helped all Australian major sector indexes advance on Tuesday.

The ASX Healthcare index rose 1.2 per cent, led by a 1.8 per cent gain for benchmark heavyweight CSL Ltd, the sector's biggest play.

The ASX Energy index halted a two-day decline by climbing 1.3 per cent. Oil and gas explorer Beach Energy Ltd had the biggest per centage gain, 4.2 per cent.

Coal miner Whitehaven Coal put on 3.7 per cent and integrated energy firm Origin Energy added 3.2 per cent.

Diversified mining giants and index heavyweights BHP Group and Rio Tinto Ltd firmed 1.1 per cent and 0.8 per cent, respectively.

Financials, which account for nearly half the benchmark, followed their Wall Street peers higher, closing 0.7 per cent up.

The financial sub-index firmed for a second consecutive session, after the US-based global lender Citigroup Inc reported better-than-anticipated fourth-quarter earnings.

Australia's biggest lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia rose 1 per cent while Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd put on 0.7 per cent.

Shares of adult education provider Navitas gained 12.9 per cent and was the market's top performer, after it received a sweetened A$2.09 billion buyout offer from a consortium of its founder Red Jones and private equity firm BGH.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index finished 0.04 per cent or 3.97 points lower at 8,964.58.

Dairy company A2 Milk ended 2.6 per cent higher while communications infrastructure firm Chorus Ltd was among the top losers in the benchmark, shedding 2.5 per cent.

REUTERS