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Australia: Strong earnings push shares higher, New Zealand inches up

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares advanced on Thursday as upbeat earnings from local firms and US retailers lifted sentiment even as many investors remained anxious about the outlook for economic growth.

Wall Street's main indexes rose overnight after retailers posted solid earnings in a welcome sign of strength in US consumer demand.

The S&P/ASX 200 index 0.5 per cent to 6,513.20 by 0137 GMT. The benchmark had declined 0.9 per cent on Wednesday following a 2.2 per cent gain over the first two trading sessions of the week.

The solid corporate earnings provide much-needed relief to financial markets which have been roiled over recent months by the Sino-US trade war and the broadening economic fallout of the dispute.

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The energy sector, which has put on more than 6 per cent so far this week thanks to stronger oil, led the gains with gas firm Santos and electricity & gas retailer Origin Energy Ltd catapulting the sub-index over 2 per cent.

"The push in the market is definitely coming from the oil and gas sector. It has been a bit sold down. The jump is not significant but there is just some recovery happening in the market," said CPS Capital associate director Dale Raynes.

Santos advanced up to 4.4 per cent after country's No.2 independent gas producer posted a 89 per cent jump in half-year profit, boosted by its acquisition of Quadrant Energy and strong output from its Cooper Basin fields in South Australia.

Origin Energy jumped 4.4 per cent after it reported a 41.6 per cent rise in its annual underlying profit, helped by robust production at its Australia Pacific LNG project.

Retailer Coles Group rose 4.5 per cent as the announcement of a special dividend along with strong online sales overshadowed an annual profit drop.

Australia's largest airline Qantas Airways Ltd rallied 3.5 per cent as investors cheered its A$400 million (S$374.9 million) share buyback announcement, putting behind the disappointing earnings results.

Also underpinning the market were mining giants BHP Group and Rio Tinto, with the duo putting on about 1 per cent each.

Miner South32, however, slipped 0.6 per cent after reporting a 25 per cent drop in annual underlying profit.

Financials, a major benchmark constituent, gained 0.4 per cent with all the 'Big Four' banks eking out gains.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.1 per cent to 10,724.19, led by medical products distributor EBOS Group, which rose about 4 per cent.

REUTERS