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Australia: Shares steady, miners higher; NZ slightly lower

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares edged higher on Thursday, helped by basic materials and energy stocks as the dollar stepped back on disappointment that the Federal Reserve did not take a more hawkish policy stance.

The S&P/ASX 200 index gained 0.1 per cent or 6.14 points to 5,659.3. The benchmark ended 0.57 per cent higher on Wednesday.

The Fed, which stood pat on policy as expected, painted a relatively upbeat picture of the US economy but gave no firm signal on the timing of its next rate move.

The dollar index trimmed about 0.3 per cent of its gains on the day after the Fed statement.

The Aussie gained 0.6 per cent to US$0.7620, after data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed a trade surplus of A$3.51 billion (S$3.78 billion) in December, handily outpacing forecasts of A$2.2 billion.

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"There is just an assumption that the Fed will be very mindful of the fiscal implications of the spending Trump intends to do," said James McGlew, executive director of corporate stockbroking at Argonaut. "Markets are more focused on how, where, and when he's gonna spend."

Basic materials stocks benefited from the pullback in the dollar with the mining and metals index rising about 1 per cent higher.

Global miners BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto gained 0.4 per cent and 0.8 per cent.

However, gold miners were the top performers on the index, owing to higher gold prices after the Fed meeting.

The gold index, which added 2.1 per cent, touched a week high as heavy-weights Newcrest Mining and Evolution Mining, and OceanaGold Corp, rose between 2 per cent and 3 per cent.

Oil and gas explorers were the beneficiaries of an overnight rally in oil prices. Prices eventually settled lower after official data showed US crude and gasoline stockpiles rose sharply.

Woodside Petroleum and Oil Search added about 0.4 per cent each.

The top performer on the main index, however, was engineering contractor Downer EDI, which hit a 7-year high, gaining as much as 19.4 per cent after posting better-than-expected first-half results and raising its full-year guidance.

The stock posted its biggest percentage gain in over 14 years.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index eased off slightly by 0.05 per cent or 3.9 points to 7,051.6, pressured by materials, utilities and real estate stocks.

Goodman Property, Fletcher Builder and Meridian Energy, all lost about 1 per cent each.


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