June 21, 2018 / 6:56 AM / 5 months ago

Australian shares rise on banks and materials; NZ jumps

* Aussie shares bolstered by weaker local currency

* Financials account for most gains

* NZ surges more than 1 pct (Updates to close)

June 21 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose on Thursday with financials and materials stocks leading the gains, as a weaker local currency increased foreign interest in the market and boosted export-focused firms.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose about 1 percent, or 59.50 points, to 6,232.10 at the close of trade. The benchmark added 1.2 percent on Wednesday.

“It’s been outperforming over the last few sessions, so clearly a lower Australian dollar helps make Australian shares more attractive to international investors,” said Michael McCarthy, chief strategist at CMC Markets and Stockbroking.

The Australian dollar has been hit hard by intensifying trade tensions between the United States and China, falling to one-year lows this week. China is Australia’s single biggest export market and the largest buyer of its commodities.

Financials stocks, which account for nearly half of the benchmark, underpinned the bullish trend on Thursday, climbing 1 percent to their highest since May 10.

The country’s “big four” banks firmed between 0.5-1.4 percent and were among the biggest boosts to the benchmark.

Materials also climbed, lifted by higher prices for iron ore. Global miner BHP jumped 0.5 percent, while rival Rio Tinto Ltd firmed 0.4 percent.

Health care stocks, which generate a substantial portion of their income from the United States, also benefited from the weaker Aussie dollar, with pharmaceutical firm CSL Ltd jumping 2.4 percent to a record high.

Meanwhile, APN Outdoor Group Ltd surged 12.1 percent and was the best performer on the benchmark after it got a A$1.09 billion ($801.80 million) takeover offer from French advertising company JCDecaux.

But telecom services fell, driven lower by Telstra Corporation Ltd which dipped 1.4 percent.

In New Zealand benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose about 1 percent or 92.99 points to finish the session at 8,998.78.

Consumer staples accounted for most of the gains, with a2 Milk Company Ltd surging 3.5 percent to its highest since May 15.

Fletcher Building Ltd also aided the upward charge, surging 4.2 percent, after saying it will consolidate its Australian operations into one division.

$1 = 1.3594 Australian dollars Reporting by Aditya Soni in Bengaluru; Editing by Sam Holmes

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