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Australian shares end near 4-month high, supported by insurers; NZ firmer

[BENGALURU] Australian shares ended at their highest in nearly four months on Friday, supported by insurer stocks after the government unveiled healthcare reforms designed to promote private cover among younger residents.

Australia's benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.3 per cent, or 19.734 points, to close at 5,814.20. The benchmark rose 0.4 per cent on Thursday.

The index ended the week 1.8 per cent higher, its biggest gain since the last week of March.

Financials pushed the main index higher, with lender Westpac Banking Corp closing up 0.5 per cent.

The financial index ended near a two-month high, with insurer Medibank Private leading the gains, rising 2 per cent to close at its highest in over 14 months.

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's government announced reforms allowing insurers to discount hospital insurance premiums for people aged 18 to 29 by up to 10 per cent to encourage younger Australians to buy private cover.

The Reserve Bank of Australia's Financial Stability Review released on Friday said the banking system had robust capital and liquidity positions to withstand any shock. Banking peers Commonwealth Bank of Australia and National Australia Bank rose 0.3 per cent each.

Meanwhile, Australian miners were boosted by news that Chinese iron ore imports rose 16 per cent in September, compared with August. Miners BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto rose, gaining 0.6 per cent, each.

The most-traded iron ore contract on the Dalian Commodity Exchange was up 2.4 per cent as China's top steelmaking city enforced production cuts, recovering from a 3-1/2-month low it hit on Thursday.

New Zealand shares closed up for the ninth straight day to set another record high amid signs of clearing political uncertainty.

Winston Peters, leader of swing party New Zealand First, said he would hold a key board meeting on Monday regarding the decision to form a coalition with either the ruling National or the opposition Labour parties.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.3 per cent or 21.2 points to 8,089.3.

Shares ended the week 1.4 per cent higher, continuing a winning run for a fourth week due to strong performance in information technology and healthcare stocks while materials stocks hindered the gains on the day.

Software firm Xero boosted the index the most, ending up 3.1 per cent at its highest in three and a half years.

Conversely, construction material maker Fletcher Building weighed the index down the most, closing 1.9 per cent lower.


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