June 21, 2018 / 3:01 AM / 4 months ago

Australia shares jump on banks, material firms; NZ at record

* Weaker Aussie dollar helps bolster share market

* Banks and materials firms lead gains

* NZ index surges to record on a2 Milk and Fletcher Building

By Aditya Soni

June 21 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose across the board on Thursday, underpinned by a weaker currency, with banks and materials leading gains.

The S&P/ASX 200 index jumped 1.2 percent or 73.5 points to 6,246.1 by 0253 GMT. The benchmark added 1.2 percent on Wednesday.

“It’s (the benchmark) 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 easily the largest buyer of its commodities.

Banks led the gains on Thursday, with the financial index jumping 1.1 percent to its highest since May 11.

The bad news from the Royal Commission seems to be over, and banks are exposed to increasing growth which is why the investors could be looking at them, McCarthy said.

Top lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia jumped 1.4 percent to a more than six-week high, while Westpac Banking Corp firmed 1.2 percent to its highest since May 17.

Materials stocks, especially miners also advanced, aided by a jump in iron ore prices.

The most-traded September iron ore on the Dalian Commodity Exchange rose 1.4 percent by 0253 GMT.

BHP, the world’s biggest miner, climbed 1.4 percent, while South32 Ltd strengthened 1.5 percent.

Health care stocks, which generate a substantial portion of their income from the United States, also benefited from the weaker Aussie dollar.

CSL Ltd, the country’s fifth-largest firm by market value, jumped 2.6 percent to a record high, while bionic ear maker Cochlear Ltd firmed 3 percent to its highest level ever.

Meanwhile, shares of APN Outdoor Group Ltd surged as much as 14.5 percent to their highest in nearly two years after it got a A$1.09 billion ($803.22 million) takeover offer from French advertising company JCDecaux.

Bucking the trend, telecom services traded lower, driven lower by Telstra Corporation Ltd which fell 0.7 percent.

Telstra, the country’s largest telecoms firm, said on Wednesday it would cut a quarter of its workforce and flagged asset sales, as competition and new technology crush its mainstay fixed-line businesses and force a strategic reset.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 1.4 percent or 120.9 points to 9,026.69, a record high.

New Zealand’s economic growth slowed further in the first quarter, government data showed on Thursday. The outcome was as expected, underscoring the central bank’s case to keep interest rates low for some time.

Consumer staples accounted for most of the gains, with dairy firm a2 Milk Company Ltd jumping 3.6 percent to a more than five-week high, while Synlait Milk Ltd rose 2.4 percent.

Fletcher Building Ltd also supported the rise of the benchmark, surging as much as 5.3 percent after saying it would consolidate its Australian operations into one division.

$1 = 1.3570 Australian dollars Reporting by Aditya Soni in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Nikhil Kurian Nainan Editing by Jacqueline Wong

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