* NAB hits near 1-yr high after naming new as CEO
* Gold stocks surge on bullion’s jump
* Financials drive NZ to record close (Updates to close)
July 19 (Reuters) - Australian shares had their best day in over four weeks on Friday as remarks from a top Federal Reserve official virtually confirmed there will be a U.S. rate cut later this month.
The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.8% or 51.20 points to 6,700.30 at the close, and managed to narrowly finish the week in the black despite losing 0.4% on Thursday.
New York Fed President John Williams on Thursday emphasized the importance of acting quickly to arrest any weakness in the U.S. economy and said policymakers cannot afford to keep their “powder dry” until economic disaster strikes.
The dovish remarks were cheered by investors who have been betting on the world’s most powerful central bank to start cutting rates at the July 30-31 meeting. Markets are fully priced for a 25-basis-point (bp) cut, while bets of a 50-bp reduction has also increased substantially from last week.
Financials, the biggest sector on the benchmark, firmed to their highest since July 5. The country’s “Big Four” banks advanced 0.9% to 2.2%.
Among the four, National Australia Bank Ltd gained the most, up 2.2% to its highest in nearly one-year.
NAB, the country’s No.4 lender, named Ross McEwan, credited with turning around Royal Bank of Scotland, as its new chief executive.
The dovish comments by Fed’s Williams also boosted gold past the key $1,450 level for the first time since May 2013, prompting heavy buying in miners of the precious metal.
Resolute Mining Ltd soared 7.1% to a more than two-year high and was the top gainer on the benchmark.
In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index tacked on 0.1% or 12.06 points to finish the session at a record close of 10,753.15. The benchmark recorded its sixth consecutive week of gains.
The biggest gainers were local-listings of Westpac Banking Corp and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd , which rose 0.7% and 1.6%, respectively.
Reporting by Aditya Soni in Bengaluru Editing by Shri Navaratnam