May 10, 2018 / 3:21 AM / 18 days ago

Aussie shares hit 4-mth high on oil rally; NZ at record high

* Australian shares rise, helped by resources

* Financials gain on stronger Aussie dollar

* New Zealand rises as cenbank stays on rates

By Ambar Warrick

May 10 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose on Thursday, bolstered by materials and energy stocks as investors increased their exposure to resources following a jump in commodity prices.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 15.3 points, or 0.25 percent, to 6,123.1, by 0248 GMT. It hit a four-month high of 6,145.2 earlier in the session. The benchmark rose 0.26 percent on Wednesday.

Copper prices surged overnight, as expectations for solid demand in the quarter helped sentiment, while zinc prices also gained. Oil prices hit fresh 3-1/2 year highs after a bigger-than-expected drawdown in U.S. oil inventories extended gains from the United States’ decision to quit a nuclear deal with Iran.

“The big positive remains in the energy sector, with a 3 pct rise in oil prices,” said Mathan Somasundaram, market portfolio strategist at Blue Ocean Equities.

The energy sector gained about 2.3 percent, with oil and gas explorers Woodside Petroleum and Oil Search pushing up the benchmark. The stocks gained more than 4 percent each.

Materials were also higher, with the metals and mining sector gaining about 1.2 percent. Mining heavyweights BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto pushed up the sector a total of 34 points.

Financials inched up on a stronger Australian dollar , with investors buying into select, large-capital stocks to increase their exposure to the currency.

The financials sector rose about 0.1 percent.

“The currency is slightly stronger and that’s helping the banks hold on to the positive territory, which has helped the market,” Somasundaram added.

Westpac Banking Corp and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group rose, while Commonwealth Bank of Australia and National Australia Bank fell.

CBA extended its losses, shedding 0.4 percent after its third-quarter profit dropped.

While the Australian benchmark has gained nearly 1 percent in the week so far, a number of big financials will trade ex-dividend, which could weigh on the index.

New Zealand stocks extended gains into a seventh session and touched a record high on broad-based gains, as telecom and industrials took the lead.

New Zealand’s central bank kept its official cash rate unchanged on Thursday, saying inflation remained below its target despite robust economic growth in the country.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 27.38 points or 0.32 percent to 8,647.21.

Telecommunications provider Spark New Zealand was the biggest boost to the index, while port operator Port of Tauranga gained 0.3 percent.

Reporting by Ambar Warrick in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Shanima A; Editing by XX

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