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Australia: Shares rise, financials, energy firms lead; NZ up


[BENGALURU] Australian shares rose on Wednesday, cheered by strength on Wall Street with financials and energy firms leading the way, while material stocks were pressured by weaker base metal prices.

The S&P/ASX 200 index gained as much as 0.4 per cent to 6,058.20 by 2331 GMT. The benchmark rose 0.8 per cent on Tuesday, again powered by the financial sector.

US stocks advanced as strong results from Netflix helped lift the S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite.

"We are running on Wall Street at the open, but when the global guys open up in Hong Kong, they tend to sell into our exposure because I think they are worried about Aussie dollar,"said Mathan Somasundaram, market portfolio strategist at Blue Ocean Equities.

The Australian dollar took a small step back on Tuesday after news of US tariffs sparked fears of a global trade war.

Mr Somasundaram suspects the market will tread water through the day, as it awaits the outcome of Thursday's European Central Bank meeting.

The ECB is unlikely to ditch a pledge to keep buying bonds at the meeting as rate setters need more time to assess the outlook for the economy and the euro, three sources close to the matter said.

In Australia, the financial sector was up as much as 0.7 per cent, with the biggest boost to the index, QBE Insurance Group surging 5.9 per cent to hit its highest in two months despite flagging a surprise annual loss in the previous session.

The insurer is expected to benefit from a restructuring exercise carried out earlier, and a strategic review of its Latin American operations.

The "big-four" banks clocked gains in the range of 0.1 per cent to 0.5 per cent.

The energy sector advanced as much as 1 per cent, riding on overnight gains in oil prices, with benchmark Brent crude hitting US$70 a barrel for the first time in a week.

Natural gas supplier Santos Ltd rose 2.7 per cent after posting a 14.3 per cent rise in fourth-quarter revenue, helped by higher oil and gas prices.

Healthcare stocks also added to the cheer, with medical equipment maker ResMed Inc hitting a record high for a second straight day.

Gains on the main index were capped by material stocks, which lost ground on weaker base metal and iron ore prices.

Australia's metals and mining index fell 0.8 per cent to its lowest in 3-weeks, with Rio Tinto Ltd down as much as 1.1 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index added 0.2 per cent, or 18.47 points, to 8,326.10, with consumer staples and industrial stocks accounting for more than half of the gains.

a2 Milk Company Ltd jumped over 3 per cent, while Auckland International Airport Ltd rose 0.9 per cent.


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