* Banks boost Aussie benchmark
* Energy stocks climb on higher oil prices
* NZ sees biggest gain in 3-weeks
By Aditya Soni
July 10 (Reuters) - Australian shares advanced on Wednesday as financials gained after S&P upgraded its outlook for the “Big Four” banks, while energy stocks firmed thanks to buoyant oil prices.
The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.6% or 39.8 points to 6,705.5 by 0202 GMT. The index lost a combined total of about 1.3% in the past two sessions.
Market focus will be on Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell’s testimony before the U.S. Congress on Wednesday and Thursday as investors look for clues to near term U.S. monetary policy.
Markets are almost fully priced for a 25-basis-points rate cut at the end of this month, though more aggressive easing has been substantially pared back after strong jobs data on Friday.
Financials stocks underpinned the gains on the benchmark, with the country’s “Big Four” banks up between 0.8% to 0.9%.
S&P Global Rating upgraded its outlook for the “Big Four” to “stable” from “negative” after the financial regulator slapped less than expected capital buffer requirement on them.
Energy stocks also advanced, boosted by a more than 1% jump in oil prices.
The country’s largest independent gas and oil producer Woodside Petroleum Ltd jumped 0.9% to a one-week high, while Oil Search Ltd rose 1.1%.
Drugmaker CSL Ltd gained 0.8%, boosting the health care sector, though mining stocks edged lower and capped the benchmark.
Red hot iron ore prices had pushed the mining index 7.7% higher last month. Sector bellwethers are slated to report their quarterly production figures next week.
Australia’s largest listed firm BHP Group Ltd and its peer Rio Tinto Ltd dipped 0.3% each.
BHP on Tuesday said it began evacuating workers and reducing operations at two offshore platforms in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico as a safety precaution ahead of an approaching storm.
In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index climbed 0.8% or 84.44 points to 10,622.55, its sharpest gain in three-weeks.
Gains were broad-based, with dairy firm a2 Milk Company Ltd seeing its biggest gain since Feb. 20.
Reporting by Aditya Soni in Bengaluru Editing by Shri Navaratnam