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Australia: Stocks finish modestly higher

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[SYDNEY] Australian shares pared early gains to end marginally higher on Wednesday, underpinned by industrial and consumer stocks.

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed up 0.2 per cent, or 8.809 points, at 5,769.

Biopharmaceutical company CSL Ltd was the top gainer, up 1.4 per cent.

CSL was followed by testing services provider, ALS Ltd which rose to its highest in 2-1/2 years.

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The company earlier in the day reported an after tax profit in fiscal 2017, a turnaround from a loss a year ago.

The top loser on the index was Sigma Healthcare, which slumped 31 per cent - its biggest intraday percentage fall in over seven years - after it said it had decided to commence legal proceedings against Chemist Warehouse Group for breach of an agreement.

The company said the cost of the legal proceedings might decrease its current year core earnings by 5 per cent.

Other decliners included Rio Tinto and South32 , which slipped after China's iron ore futures fell more than 5 per cent on Wednesday, the steepest single-day drop in more than two weeks.

Financials were off 0.02 per cent, with three of the 'Big Four' down. Commonwealth Bank of Australia ended flat.

The gold index fell 3.65 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index gained 0.502 per cent, or 37.08 points, to finish at 7,421.78.

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corp Ltd was the top performer on the index, advancing 1.5 per cent, followed by energy retailer Contact Energy.