February 15, 2017 / 6:16 AM / a year ago

Australia shares close at near 2-year high on strong earnings; NZ firm

(Updates to close)

Feb 15 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed at their highest in over 21 months on Wednesday with financials leading the gains, helped by a rise in Commonwealth Bank of Australia shares after it reported robust half-year earnings.

The S&P/ASX 200 index ended up 0.9 percent, or 53.86 points, at 5,809.1, its highest close since May, 2015.

The benchmark finished 0.1 percent lower on Tuesday, snapping 5 straight sessions of gains.

Commonwealth Bank, Australia’s biggest company by market value, reported a 2 percent rise in half-year cash profit, helped by home lending.

The stock finished at its highest in over a month, up 2.3 percent and helped push the financial index up 1.7 percent.

Financial stocks also drew support from U.S. financials, which guided Wall Street to a record high overnight after Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said the central bank will likely need to raise interest rates at an upcoming meeting.

The Commonwealth Bank’s ‘Big Four’ peers rose in a range of 1.3 percent to 2.4 percent.

The healthcare sector got a lift from a near 3-percent rise in its biggest constituent CSL Ltd to the highest in 6 months after a rise in half-year profit that met expectations.

The biotherapeutics firm also reaffirmed its full-year profit forecast.

On the other hand, utilities and energy stocks posted some losses as oil prices dipped.

Origin Energy fell 0.7 percent, while Santos slid 0.5 percent.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index ended 0.4 percent, or 21.9 points, higher at 7,180.03.

Gains were centred in financials and telcos.

Westpac’s NZ-listed shares and Spark New Zealand were among the biggest gainers, rising 2.5 percent each. (Reporting by Rushil Dutta in Bengaluru; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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