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Australia: Shares reverse course to end at 1-month high

[SYDNEY] Australian shares reversed direction on Wednesday to end at the its highest level in more than a month as financials pared their early losses, while upbeat earnings from oil companies and a rise in crude prices buoyed the energy sector.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.5 per cent or 27.62 points to 5785.1 at the close of trade.

Financials, the biggest index component, closed up with the major banks finishing the session higher, except for Commonwealth Bank of Australia which closed 1.7 per cent lower after trading ex-dividend.

The benchmark energy index rose to its highest level in two months and closed higher with Woodside Petroleum and Origin Energy driving the gains.

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Woodside Petroleum, Australia's biggest independent oil and gas producer, closed 2.6 per cent higher after reporting a 49 per cent jump in its half-year profit.

Shares of Origin Energy ended up 5.4 per cent helped by a surge in the power and gas retailer's annual profit and a strong outlook for the year ahead.

Market participants will be scrutinising Australian employment data due on Thursday, which may offer clarity on the direction of the central bank's interest rate policy.

The employment numbers will follow Australian wage data out on Wednesday, which highlighted stagnation in income growth.

Annual wage growth held at 1.9 per cent, on par with inflation and the lowest on record. That was less than half the growth rate workers enjoyed a decade ago when a mining boom boosted pay across Australia.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.51 per cent or 39.6 points higher to finish the session at 7853.34, its all-time closing high.

Industrials and banking stocks added to most of the gains on the benchmark with top performers Australia and New Zealand Banking Group and Auckland International Airport closing 2.7 per cent and 2 per cent higher respectively.