Sept 18 (Reuters) - Australian shares edged higher on Monday, with financial stocks leading gains, taking their cue from Wall Street which reached record highs on Friday.
The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.6 percent or 31.777 points to 5,726.8 by 0230 GMT, on track to snap three straight sessions of declines. The benchmark finished 0.8 percent down on Friday.
The “Big Four” banks gained between 0.9 percent and 1.1 percent, with National Australia Bank hitting more than a four-week high.
“Wall Street has been a positive leap for financials; all-time highs for S&P 500 and Dow 30 provides a strong backdrop for opening in the Asia-Pacific region,” said Michael McCarthy, Chief market strategist at CMC Markets.
“Futures-led buying seems to have lifted the financial sector and the evidence for that is we are seeing very weak volumes in the cash market and better volumes in futures trading,” he added.
Energy stocks, the second-biggest gainers on the benchmark index, thrived on oil markets that remained near multi-month highs reached late last week as the number of U.S. rigs drilling for new production fell.
WorleyParsons rose as much as 3.3 percent, posting its biggest intraday percentage gain in over three weeks, while Oil Search Ltd hit its highest in more than two weeks.
Santos Ltd was up as much as 1.5 percent.
The material stocks index inched lower but later recovered to gain marginally. Rio Tinto Ltd bounced back from early losses, rising as much as 0.4 percent.
“The major weight on the materials sector are the gold stocks as a group, they are down two-thirds of a percent where a lot of pressure is coming from,” added McCarthy.
Gold slipped to its lowest in more than two weeks amid a firmer dollar, while prospects of monetary policy tightening in the United States ahead of the Federal Reserve’s two-day meeting starting on Tuesday also weighed on the metal.
The Australian gold index dropped as much as 1.4 percent to a near three-week high, heading for a third consecutive session of losses.
Gold miners Newcrest Mining Ltd and Evolution Mining Ltd fell as much as 1.5 percent and 1.6 percent, with the latter slipping to a three-week low.
New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.2 percent or 15.24 points to 7,777.9, on track to snap four straight sessions of losses.
Financials outperformed other sectors on the index.
Reporting by Christina Martin in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Aditya Soni; Editing by Jacqueline Wong