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Australian shares finish higher, QBE Insurance leads; NZ up

[BENGALURU] Australian shares closed higher on Wednesday, boosted by financial and healthcare stocks, with QBE Insurance topping the charts with a 5.4 per cent jump.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.3 per cent or 17.7 points to 6,054.7, its best close in over a week. The benchmark climbed 0.8 per cent on Tuesday.

Australia's biggest insurer QBE Insurance led the gains on the index, climbing 5.4 per cent in its best session since November 2016 as investors spotted the upside following a sharp fall in the previous session.

The insurer's shares fell as much as 6 per cent on Tuesday after it flagged a surprise record annual loss of about US$1.2 billion, battered by payouts related to natural disasters.

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It also said it would conduct a strategic review of its Latin American business.

"The FY18 guidance looks conservatively set and higher quality," Morgan Stanley said in a note. "The outlook is for a cleaner QBE portfolio, with greater underwriting discipline, supported by improving fundamentals."

Macquarie Group Ltd, Australia's biggest investment bank, rose 1.6 per cent to end at an all-time high.

Healthcare giants CSL Ltd and Cochlear Ltd gained 0.9 per cent and 3.5 per cent, respectively. CSL closed at a record high.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia capped the gains on the index, falling 0.8 per cent towards the end of the session to finish at its weakest since early December.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.2 per cent or 16.46 points to finish the session at 8,324.09, ahead of inflation data due on Thursday.

Inflation is seen having held steady in the fourth quarter, surpassing central bank expectations, but still unlikely to undermine the bank's determination to keep rates on hold at record lows.

A2 Milk Company was among the top performers on the index, up 2.6 per cent to finish at a record.

Payment solutions provider Pushpay Holdings led the gains with a 5.5 per cent jump - its best day in nearly six weeks.


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