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Australia: Shares rally on ECB hopes, NZ stocks hit record high


[SYDNEY] Australian and New Zealand shares rallied on Wednesday on hopes stimulus from central banks will bolster uneven global growth, with gains seen across all sectors.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 1.3 per cent or 68.5 points to 5,376.5 by 0228 GMT. The benchmark, however, is still down 0.7 per cent for January.

The Bank of Japan ends a two-day meeting on Wednesday with growing speculation it could announce more stimulatory measures, given that falling oil prices are pulling inflation farther away from the central bank's target.

China is also expected to roll out more support measures after reporting on Tuesday that its economy grew at its slowest pace in 24 years in 2014.

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Markets also expect the European Central Bank (ECB) to announce large-scale bond buying at a policy meeting on Thursday. "Everyone is talking about the ECB meeting outcome," said Kara Ordway, a market maker and trader at City Index. "Markets are choppy because there is so much uncertainty." Shares were also underpinned after a measure of Australian consumer sentiment rebounded in January as sharp falls in petrol prices and better news on employment left people more ready to splash out on major items.

Miners led the gains with Rio Tinto jumping 2.3 per cent, followed by BHP Billiton up 1.4 per cent.

BHP Billiton announced spending cuts in its shale drilling over the next six months as it looks to meet its promise not to cut dividends amid plunging iron ore, copper and oil prices.

Banks also rose, with Commonwealth Bank of Australia, National Australia Bank and Westpac Banking Corp up more than 1 per cent.

Even the energy sector managed to defy another slide in oil prices, with Woodside Petroleum, Karoon Gas and Caltex Australia up between 1 and 3 per cent.

In New Zealand, the NZX-50 index rose 0.8 per cent to a fresh record high of 5,675.20.

The market was driven by a 3.7 per cent rise for Fletcher Building, the market's biggest cap stock, to a high of NZ$8.37, as it rebounded from a one-month low touched the day before.

Another top-10 stock casino operator Sky City also recovered from recent weakness, rising 2 per cent to NZ$4.00, while telecommunications company Spark Ltd, which a 7 year high on Tuesday, dipped on 2.4 per cent on profit taking to NZ$3.26.

Gold miner Oceana Gold rose 6.9 per cent to NZ$2.76, a near two-month high, as it drew more support following its recent production report and earnings guidance.