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Australia: Stocks up on boost from financials, materials

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[SYDNEY] Australian shares closed higher on Thursday as financial and material firms supported a market that has been subdued over the past two days.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 20.625 points or 0.36 per cent to 5,789.6 at the close of trade.

BHP Billiton, an index heavyweight, advanced 1.2 per cent as oil and copper prices rose.

Other mining companies also gained, lifting the metals index 1.3 per cent.

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Australia and New Zealand Banking was the top performer on the index, up 1.3 per cent, adding the most gains to the financial sector which recouped losses after midday and ended slightly higher.

The world's no. 2 condom maker, Ansell Ltd, jumped 4 per cent after a Chinese group bought its condom division.

Gaming content developer Aristocrat Leisure finished 4 per cent higher on a 57 per cent rise in its half-year profit.

Qantas Airways rose to its highest in more than nine years, while real estate company, Goodman Group soared to an all-time high.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index climbed 0.2 per cent or 12.69 points to finish the session at 7,434.47.

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corp Ltd was the top performer on the index, followed by telecom services provider, Spark New Zealand.

Finance Minister Steven Joyce said on Thursday that the New Zealand government expects to post a bigger-than-forecast budget surplus in 2017 and plans to invest the extra cash in infrastructure to fuel the growing economy.