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Australian shares firm at 10-year top, financials lead; NZ soft

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares extended their rally to a fourth session on Monday, hovering around 10-year highs as investors drew confidence from Wall Street after it capped off a strong week.

The S&P 500 and Nasdaq logged their best weekly gains in over a year on Friday as technology stocks boosted major indexes to records.

In Sydney, the S&P/ASX 200 index advanced 0.3 per cent or 17.5 points by 2350 GMT. The benchmark rose 0.7 per cent on Friday.

Financials accounted for nearly half the gains on the index, with Commonwealth Bank of Australia rising 0.7 per cent to a near five-month peak.

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Other banks in the "Big Four" notched gains of between 0.4 per cent and 0.8 per cent.

Healthcare stocks were also sought out in early trade, with CSL Ltd and Cochlear Ltd climbing 0.9 per cent and 2.4 per cent, respectively.

Real estate investment trust Dexus Property Group was among the top gainers on the index, up 1.8 per cent to a near three-week high.

"People are willing to buy today, but I think there's some caution creeping in because the market has had a strong run", said Christopher Conway, head of research and trading at Australian Stock Report.

Mr Conway suspects the Wall Street-backed rally, which is common during late-December to early-January, will slow down as more people return from their holiday breaks.

Insurer Suncorp Group limited the market's upside, slipping 1.4 per cent to an over two-month low after it flagged a A$160 million - A$170 million (S$166.75 million - S$177.17 million) hit to its half-year earnings due to a hailstorm that pelted Melbourne in December.

Commodity prices lost steam after a recent strong rally and pressured miners. Australia said it expects iron ore prices to average US$51.50 a tonne this year, down 20 per cent from 2017, because of rising global supply and moderating demand from top importer China as its steel sector shrinks.

Gold miner Newcrest Mining dropped 1.2 per cent, while mining heavyweights BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto shed 0.4 per cent each.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index, which nudged higher to a record early on, eased 0.1 per cent in thin trade.

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corporation Ltd and construction company Fletcher Building Ltd were the biggest drags on the index, dropping 1.2 per cent each.

REUTERS