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Australia shares reach highest in nearly 8 weeks; NZ keeps setting records

[BENGALURU] Australian shares ended at their highest in nearly eight weeks on Wednesday, led by financial and industrial stocks and tracking Wall Street's strong overnight lead.

The gains were aided by an upbeat domestic consumer confidence reading in a survey by the Melbourne Institute and Westpac Bank, which helped lift the Australian dollar.

"Global investors are buying into the Aussie exposure," said Mathan Somasundaram, a market portfolio strategist with Blue Ocean Equities.

Australia's benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.6 per cent, or 33.99 points, to close at 5,772.1. The benchmark was flat on Tuesday.

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All sectors advanced on Wednesday.

"Global investors generally buy into the large caps, which is dominated by the banks, miners and the staples," added Mr Somasundaram.

Westpac rose 0.7 per cent, lifting the benchmark the most. Morgan Stanley said it expected the lender's cash profit for the second half of the year to rise 3 per cent over the first half.

Bellwether miner BHP Billiton rose 0.5 per cent as Dalian-traded iron ore pared some of Tuesday's loss that took it to a three-month low. Peer Rio Tinto ended 0.6 per cent lower.

Rio Tinto and South32 are some of the parties negotiating Japanese aluminium spot premiums, which fell 21 per cent for the final quarter.

New Zealand shares ended at a record high for a seventh consecutive day, as the leader of the kingmaker New Zealand First party said "huge" progress had been made in coalition talks and mentioned a self-imposed deadline of Thursday to announce a new government.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.3 per cent, or 23.17 points, to finish at 8,060.98. It was the market's seventh straight gain, aided by consumer staples and healthcare stocks.

Dairy major A2 Milk Company Ltd closed up 2 per cent at a record high. Similarly, Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corp ended up 1.3 per cent after hitting a record high during the day.

Telecom provider Spark New Zealand fell 0.7 per cent.

REUTERS