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Resources rally boosts Australia shares; NZ flat

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares finished higher for a fifth straight session on Thursday as a rally in commodity prices drove up resources stocks.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.3 per cent or 19.60 points to 5,881.0 at the close of trade. The benchmark rose 0.3 per cent on Wednesday.

Fears of tightening supply of aluminium and nickel following US sanctions on Russian mining giant Rusal sent prices of the metals to multi-year highs, while oil climbed as top exporter Saudi Arabia continued to withhold supplies.

BHP Billiton was the biggest boost to the index, up 2.8 per cent after reporting an 8 pct rise in third-quarter iron ore shipments.

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"It was largely expected that BHP's iron ore expansion was done, and so this increase in production of about 8 per cent in the quarter was a surprise to the market," said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

Chinese iron ore futures rose more than 4 per cent on Thursday, supported by expectations that a move by China's central bank to reduce the amount of cash lenders must keep as reserves would help spur steel demand.

BHP rival Rio Tinto rose 3.1 per cent, while South32 jumped 4.6 per cent.

Alumina Ltd rode strong aluminium prices to settle 7.1 per cent higher at a near-decade best.

Losses in financial stocks amid an inquiry into the sector capped the gains on the index.

Wealth manager AMP Ltd fell 2.9 per cent to its worst close in over four years.

Earlier this week, the inquiry into the sector heard that AMP lied to Australia's corporate watchdog for almost a decade to cover its widespread practice of charging customers for services it did not provide.

Meanwhile, data showed Australian employment barely rose in March and a sharp downward revision to February's figures ruined a record-breaking run of gains, a disappointing outcome that hurt the local dollar and reinforced the case against a rate hike.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index pared early gains to finish the session marginally higher.

Dairy firm a2 Milk Company ended up 2.8 per cent, while Synlait Milk rose 3.1 per cent to a record close.

Headline inflation fell to just 1.1 per cent in the first quarter, suggesting the country's central bank is all but certain to signal it will keep rates on hold for some time.

Falls in healthcare and telecom stocks scaled back the index' gains, with Ryman Healthcare and Spark New Zealand down between 1-1.4 per cent.

REUTERS