December 19, 2016 / 6:26 AM / in 10 months

Australia shares end firmer as rating agencies shrug off budget deficit forecast

(Updates to close)

Dec 19 (Reuters) - Australian shares ended higher on Monday, pushed up by financials and energy stocks after the top three rating agencies held their triple-A appraisals on Australia, despite the government forecasting bigger budget deficits for some time.

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed 0.53 percent or 29.17 points higher at 5562.1.

The Australian government forecast a deterioration in its budget deficit over the next four years, but still hoped to snatch a surplus by 2021, with hopes of averting a damaging downgrade of its prized triple-A rating.

Rating agency Fitch, noting the forecast said Australia was still consistent with a triple-A rating. That view was followed some time later by the Moody’s rating agency, while Standard and Poor’s said the budget update had no immediate impact on rating.

There had been concerns that Australia was about to lose its prized S&P AAA-rating because of widening budget deficits.

Financials rose with the “Big Four” major banks finishing higher.

Shares of Commonwealth Bank of Australia hit a near one-year high before closing up by 0.5 percent. CBA disposed of its remaining stake in Visa Inc.

The benchmark energy index finished up 0.5 percent as oil prices rose in anticipation of a tighter market.

Beach Energy Ltd and WorleyParsons Ltd were the biggest gainers on the energy index, adding 2.5 percent and 1.7 percent respectively.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index closed 0.39 percent or 26 points higher at 6786.25.

Gains were fuelled by defensives and consumer stocks. Infrastructure firm Infratil and poultry products distributor Tegel Group Holdings were the best performers, ending 3.7 pecent and 3 percent higher respectively. (Reporting by Anusha Ravindranath in Bengaluru; Editing by Eric Meijer)

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