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Australia shares rise on mining and healthcare gains; NZ slips

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares closed at a near seven-month high on Wednesday as soaring iron ore prices boosted miners, while healthcare stocks surged after Australia's government earmarked record spending for the sector in its pre-poll budget.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.68 per cent or 42.6 points to 6,285.0 at the close of trade. The benchmark rose 0.4 per cent on Tuesday.

Australia's conservative government on Tuesday proposed tax cuts for low and middle income earners while promising the first budget surplus in more than a decade, in a bid to woo voters ahead of an upcoming election.

Sentiment was also lifted by data showing Australia's retail sales growth in February soared to its highest since late-2017, easing fears of a drop in consumer spending amid a steep property downturn.

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Miners continued on a dream run, surging 1.7 per cent to close at their highest since September, 2011 as iron ore futures in China hit a record high on the back of supply disruption worries.

Index heavyweights BHP Group and Rio Tinto rose 2.2 per cent and 1.9 per cent, respectively. Both mining giants have flagged lower iron ore output following disruptions to operations after a cyclone in Western Australia.

Fortescue Metals Group, the world's fourth largest miner, rose 2 per cent after touching an over 10-year peak in the previous session.

Miners have benefited since February after top iron ore supplier Brazil's Vale SA's tailings dam collapsed, sending iron ore prices soaring as operations at multiple other mines were halted due to safety concerns.

A surge in iron ore exports also helped Australia's trade surplus swell beyond expectations to A$4.8 billion ($3.4 billion) in February, data showed.

Healthcare stocks rose 0.9 per cent to a near 6-month high, with index heavyweight CSL Ltd notching the top per centage gain at 1.1 per cent, while Cochlear Ltd firmed 0.6 per cent.

"The budget announcement had a positive influence on the market today, particularly in the sectors where funding was prominent," said Danial Moradi, equity strategist at Lonsec.

Meanwhile, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index slipped 0.19 per cent or 19.09 points to finish the session at 9,939.26, after hitting a record high in the previous session.

Among top losers on the index was Spark New Zealand which slipped 3.3 per cent after its managing director Simon Moutter stepped down. 

REUTERS