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Banks, consumer shares pull Australia's main index higher; NZ flat

[BENGALURU]  Australian shares ended higher on Friday as a signal from the central bank that the next move in interest rates could be well be an increase helped financial stocks notch a second day of gains, offsetting declines in commodity-backed shares.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.46 per cent to 6,167.30 at the close of trade. On the week, it gained about 1.7 per cent.

Speaking a day Australia posted reported robust jobs data, the Reserve Bank of Australia governor Philip Lowe said the next move in rates could be upwards, while giving a reassurance that a steep property downturn was unlikely to derail domestic momentum.

Financial stocks reacted positively, with the country's biggest lender Commonwealth Bank ending the day over 1 per cent higher, while Australia and New Zealand Banking Group climbed 0.7 per cent.

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The other two "Big Four" banks, Westpac and National Australia Bank, ended flat.

Consumer-focused shares were also among the top advancers, with conglomerate Wesfarmers up for a second straight session, while the country's biggest retailer Woolworths rallied 1.1 per cent.

Its rival Coles closed about 1.7 per cent higher.

However, overall gains were capped by commodity-driven sectors' lacklustre performance.

The Australian mining index fell 0.2 per cent, pulled down by heavyweight BHP Group's 0.4 per cent decline.

Also casting a cloud over sentiment was a Reuters report on Thursday that customs at China's Dalian port banned imports of Australian coal and would cap overall coal imports from all sources.

The report knocked coal miners Stanmore Coal and New Hope Corp 2 per cent and 3.6 per cent lower.

Synlait Milk Ltd led gains in New Zealand, rising 3.3 per cent and boosting the consumer staples sector.

Utilities were the top gaining sector on the main board with electricity generator Meridian Energy closing 2.2 per cent higher.

However, gains elsewhere were offset by declines in energy and telecom shares.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was little changed on the day but closed the week up 0.7 per cent.

REUTERS