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Australia shares up, aided by financials and healthcare; NZ at record high

[BENGALURU] Australian shares rose on Friday, led by financial and healthcare stocks as the market tracked a rally on Wall Street after strong US economic data eased worries about a slowing economy.

The S&P/ASX 200 index climbed 0.45 per cent or 28 points to close at 6,195.2, an 0.3 per cent gain during the week. The benchmark was flat on Thursday.

On Wednesday, the US Federal Reserve surprised markets by abandoning all projections for rate hikes this year due to signs of softness in the US economy.

However, strong economic data from US on Thursday boosted Wall Street and helped soothe nerves. Initial claims for jobless benefits fell more than expected and mid-Atlantic factory activity rebounded sharply.

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"The markets are seeing the world slightly differently after the Fed meeting and this is not an Australian-centric move. This is a global equity move driven by what we've seen in US stocks," said Chris Weston, head of research at Pepperstone brokerage.

Australian financial stocks rose 0.5 per cent to snap 10 sessions of losses, but still had a loss of 0.7 per cent for the week.

National Australia Bank Ltd gained 0.5 per cent and Westpac Banking Corp 0.7 per cent.

Funds and asset managers that fall sharply earlier in the week recovered. Perpetual Ltd was up 1.1 per cent and AMP Ltd 0.5 per cent.

Healthcare stocks also gained, with index heavyweight CSL Ltd adding 1.6 per cent and Cochlear Ltd 1.3 per cent.

Energy stocks moved up as oil prices hovered around 2019 highs scaled on Thursday, supported by supply cuts by producer cartel Opec.

Woodside Petroleum Ltd rose 0.7 per cent. Oil Search Ltd gained 1.8 per cent, reaching a more than three-week high.

Mining stocks declined, led down by gold miners. Newcrest Mining Ltd fell 0.9 per cent while St Barbara Ltd plunged nearly 30 per cent to its lowest close in over 15 months.

St Barbara's drop came after it cut fiscal 2019 production guidance for its key Gwalia mine in Western Australia and said it will not proceed with its Gwalia Mass Extraction project due to costs being double the original capex forecast.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index closed at a record high, rising 0.95 per cent or 89.68 points to finish the session at 9,550.99.

Dairy firm Synlait Milk was the top gainer, jumping 5.1 per cent while a2 Milk Company Ltd moved up 0.7 per cent.

REUTERS