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Australia shares rise, on track for best week since March; NZ up


[BENGALURU] Australian shares rose on Friday, and were on track for their biggest weekly gain in over two months, led by gains in defensive stocks and financials.

The S&P/ASX 200 index, which fell 1.2 per cent on Thursday, was up 0.3 per cent , or 15.11 points, to 5,778.3 by 0319 GMT, helped by a rise in consumer staples, utilities and telecom stocks.

For the week, the index was up 1.7 per cent, and positioned for its best week since the one ended March 31.

Analysts attribute some of this week's gain to self-managed super funds (SMSF) buying into the market and net purchases by international participants.

Tony Farnham, an economist with Patersons Securities, said individuals have been buying shares ahead of July 1, when superannuation regulations change.

The day's gains were driven by financial stocks, with the 'Big Four' banks rising between 0.2 to nearly one per cent.

"We've got the bank levy and other uncertainties, but at the moment I think there's a degree of confidence that profit numbers pre-bank levy were quite solid and dividend yields were still solid to retail investors," Mr Farnham said.

The financial index is set to post a weekly gain.

The telecom index was 0.5 per cent higher, in line with gains in Telstra shares.

Australia's largest telecom company on Wednesday said it would lay off 1,400 workers in a fresh round of job cuts.

Woolworths pushed up the consumer staples sector, while utilities were buoyed by a 0.7 per cent gain in AGL Energy.

Basic materials shares remained pressured by continuing weakness in commodity prices, compounded by poor outlook.

While copper prices fell for a fourth day, iron ore prices rose sharply tacking steel futures, though demand outlook remained shaky.

The most-traded iron ore contract on the Dalian Commodity Exchange was on track for a third straight week of losses.

The gold index was 1.3 per cent lower.

Rio Tinto was marginally lower and rival BHP was flat.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was 0.5 per cent, or 35.75 points, higher at 7,550.08.

Consumer stocks and financials were the biggest gainers on the main index.

a2 Milk was 7.6 per cent higher and the biggest gainer by weight on the index.

The dairy products maker raised its full-year group revenue forecast earlier in the day.