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Australia shares rise as financial stocks gain; NZ down

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares closed modestly higher on Tuesday as losses in the mining and healthcare sectors were offset by significant gains in financial stocks as investors turned to the safety of the nation's biggest banks.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.3 per cent, or 17.1 points, to 6,106.90 at the close of trade. The benchmark had gained 0.4 per cent on Monday.

Financial stocks advanced 1.4 per cent, led by the "Big Four" banks, which rose between 1 per cent and 2.3 per cent.

Australia and New Zealand Banking rose more than 2 per cent after the bank pledged on Tuesday to lend more to investors as it reported the lowest annualised growth rate in mortgage lending in more than two years.

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Investors have "refocused attention on the big four because that's where the gains are", said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

Meanwhile, the metals and mining sub-index erased early gains to end marginally lower, with iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group Ltd slipping 0.3 per cent.

World's biggest miner BHP Group ended flat as investors awaited the company's results after market hours. The firm posted an 8 per cent decline in first-half profit, citing production disruptions and a fall in commodity prices.

Healthcare stocks finished 1.7 per cent down, hitting a more than one-month closing low, with hearing implant firm Cochlear Ltd slumping 8 per cent after it flagged slower growth in U.S. and Europe.

Australian medical firms conduct most of their business in the United States and any concerns of a slowdown in the country would negatively impact the entire sector.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was marginally lower, falling 0.23 per cent or 21.18 points to finish the session at 9,224.26.

Dairy product maker a2 Milk Company skid 2.2 per cent, while Auckland International Airport dipped 0.6 per cent. 

REUTERS