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Australia: Shares rise on financials, materials; NZ down 0.2%

[BENGALURU] Australian shares advanced on Friday morning on broad-based gains, with financial and material stocks leading the charge in a generally upbeat mood in markets across the region.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.6 per cent, or 34.49 points, to 5,966.20 by 0040 GMT. The benchmark fell 0.1 per cent on Thursday.

In early trade, Asian share markets edged higher as investors gave a guarded reception to Republican plans for massive US tax cuts.

The country's No. 2 lender, Westpac Banking Corp drove the financial index as much as 0.4 per cent higher. The index rebounded from a 0.7 per cent fall on Thursday, when National Australia Bank announced job cuts while reporting a record cash profit.

Market voices on:

"There is no doubt the banks in particular are facing an increasingly difficult environment so you need only look at housing starts or the slowing growth in house prices," said Christopher Conway, head of research and trading at the Australian Stock Report.

"Everyone gets a bit negative on the banks at times but I think there is enough flex in their business and they are good enough at what they do to find ways to make money regardless."

While nickel and zinc retreated from multi-year highs on the London Metal Exchange, recovering commodity prices in China helped drive strong gains in Australian material stocks.

BHP Billiton was the dominant contributor to the main index as prices of iron ore on the Dalian exchange climbed 2.2 per cent to 442 yuan a tonne on the view capacity curbs in China's top steelmaking city Tangshan may fall short of expectations.

The iron ore to metallurgical coal miner also benefited from coking coal futures on the Dalian Commodity Exchange soaring to a session peak of 1,142 yuan a tonne, their highest since Oct 23.

BHP's peer Rio Tinto, a major miner of iron ore, gained as much as 0.8 per cent.

"I hold BHP right now and I like it because of the diversification but I would not be opposed to holding say Rio or Fortescue either and that is because of my specific outlook on iron ore," said Mr Conway.

"It will be the big miners who will continue to benefit from what we have seen at the moment."

Brent futures, the international benchmark for oil prices was 0.4 per cent higher on Friday. Brent has risen by some 37 per cent since its 2017-lows. The Australian energy index traded as much as 0.8 per cent higher, with oil and gas explorer Beach Energy Ltd jumping 4.4 per cent to reach its highest in over two years.

Across the Tasman, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index slipped 0.2 per cent as consumer staples reversed gains made earlier in the day.

Dairy company a2 Milk lost as much as 3 per cent and was the index's biggest drag after gaining the same amount earlier in the session.