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Australia shares rise on materials, financials; NZ barely moves

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares rose on Wednesday, with Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) leading financials higher after reporting a smaller fall in profit than expected, while miners gained on strong import data from China.

Shares of CBA rose 2.6 per cent after Australia's largest bank reported a 4.8 per cent fall in full-year cash profit to A$9.23 billion (S$9.3 billion), less than had been forecast by analysts polled by Reuters.

During the year, CBA paid hefty penalties for malpractices that forced a CEO change, and suffered a blow to its reputation from scandals exposed by a Royal Commission inquiry.

Wealth manager AMP Ltd, which also had wrongdoing exposed in the inquiry, posted its worst first-half net profit in 15 years on Wednesday, though its stock closed up 3.9 per cent.

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Michael McCarthy, chief strategist at CMC Markets and Stockbroking, said there may have been some buying of AMP from investors who were probably waiting to confirm there were "no further nasty surprises" in its results.

Australia's benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.2 per cent to 6,268.50, erasing much of Tuesday's 0.3 per cent loss, but ending well below the 6,300 mark. There's only been one close above that level in more than 10-1/2 years.

Among miners, BHP rose 1 per cent as its iron mining joint venture with Brazil's Vale SA said it expects to obtain next year all licenses needed to resume operations suspended after a 2015 environmental disaster.

Rival Rio Tinto rose 1 per cent as Chinese customs data showed iron ore imports rebounded in July, buoyed by record steel production, and strong margins in Rio's key market.

Fortescue Metals Group, the world's fourth largest iron ore miner, added 2.1 per cent.

Australian energy stocks advanced for a fourth straight session, edging up 0.1 per cent, as oil prices held steady, supported by a report of rising US crude inventories as well as the introduction of sanctions against Iran.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index ended barely changed as gains in consumer discretionary and healthcare stocks were cancelled out by losses in consumer staples.

NZ-shares of a2 Milk Co Ltd closed down 1.4 per cent. The company said the chief executive of its UK and Europe businesses is stepping down.

REUTERS