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Australia: Stocks end higher as financials bolster

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares ended higher on Thursday, underpinned by financials, as investors stayed on the sidelines against the backdrop of a weaker Wall Street.

The S&P/ASX 200 index ended 9.464 points or 0.16 per cent higher, at 5,921.50.

The Australian stock market seemed to be consolidating after a bull run over the last few sessions, analysts said, adding that traders are now looking for market-moving catalysts.

The financial index hit a 23-month high, led by the 'Big Four' banks, which are slated to report earnings next week.

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The biggest drag on the index came from energy stocks - oil majors slipped on lower prices, while stocks such as Santos and Origin Energy, which have some LNG assets, fell after the Aussie government proposed to restrict exports of liquefied natural gas during times when domestic shortage (due to high exports) pushes up local LNG prices.

Miners BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals slipped on lower commodity prices.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index ended 0.266 per cent or 19.480 points higher to finish the session at 7,354.610, led by materials.

Fletcher Building Limited was the top performer on the index, which climbed to a fresh six-month high on Thursday.