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Financials lead Australian shares higher as investors hunt for bargains; NZ up

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares closed half a per cent higher in light trade on Thursday as investors sought bargains in the absence of guidance from financial markets in the US, which were closed for Independence Day. The S&P/ASX 200 index recouped Wednesday's losses adding 32.1 points to end the session at 6,215.5, its highest close in about two weeks.

The benchmark fell 0.4 per cent on Wednesday.

Financials accounted for more than half the gains, with the main financial index climbing 1 per cent.

The "Big Four" banks were the biggest gainers, with Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Australia and New Zealand Bank up 1.2 per cent each.

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"The banks have been sold down recently due to the Royal Commission and other headwinds the financial sector is facing," said Christopher Conway, head of research and trading at Australian Stock Report.

"The biggest story today is bargain hunting in those beaten down spaces."

Mr Conway was referring to the Royal Commission enquiry into misconduct by financial institutions in Australia, which has exposed widespread wrongdoing including fraud by financial planners, deception of regulators and charging customers fees without providing a service.

Miners continued their poor performance this week as commodity prices continued to weaken ahead of the Trump administration's Friday deadline to impose tariffs on US$34 billion of worth of Chinese imports into the United States.

Global miner Rio Tinto fell 1.2 per cent to a 2-1/2 month low, while peer BHP closed 0.5 per cent down, its lowest in over a week.

Leading telco Telstra, which has had a troubled year so far, concluded a fourth session of gains, boosting other stocks on the telecom index, which ended 1.7 per cent up.

Telstra climbed 1.9 per cent.

"Telecom stocks are heavily weighted against Telstra, which we know has not performed well over the last couple of years, and that's what is driving gains in the telecom sector," Mr Conway said.

Following a subdued start, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.4 per cent, or 37.21 points to finish the session at 9,062.85.

Auckland International Airport drove the gains, rising 2.4 per cent, with index heavyweight a2 Milk Company up 1.3 per cent.

REUTERS