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Financials lead Australian shares to 8-week high; NZ ends near record high

[BENGALURU] Broad-based gains led by financials helped Australian shares end at an eight-week high on Thursday, offsetting losses in mining stocks as iron ore prices sagged.

Australia's benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.4 per cent, or 22.355 points, to close at 5,794.5. The benchmark rose 0.6 per cent on Wednesday.

Financials pushed the index higher, propped up by lenders National Australia Bank and Westpac Banking Corp, which closed 0.9 per cent and 0.6 per cent higher, respectively.

Bank of Queensland was one of the financial index's top gainers, ended 1.2 per cent higher after reporting annual profit which rose 4 per cent. The stock reached its highest in over a year-and-a-half at one point.

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On the other hand, miners BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto dragged on the index, shedding 1.6 per cent and 1.4 per cent, respectively.

Iron ore prices at Qingdao port in major market China dropped 2.2 per cent to their lowest in over three months on expectations of sharply lower demand as the government orders some steel mills to reduce output to reduce winter smog.

The mining index closed 1 per cent lower despite marginally higher copper prices.

New Zealand shares gained marginally to close at another record high on a day characterised by further political uncertainty.

The leader of the New Zealand First party deferred a decision on forming a coalition with either the ruling National or opposition Labour parties to at least the weekend.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.089 per cent or 7.14 points to 8,068.12.

Building materials maker Fletcher Building lifted the index up the most, gaining about 1.4 per cent, while top gainer Synlait Milk rose 6 per cent to an all-time closing high.

Kiwi shares rose 0.3 per cent to set an intraday record for a sixth consecutive session before giving back gains as healthcare stocks dragged the index.

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corporation shed 3 per cent, while peer Arvida Group lost 0.8 per cent.

REUTERS