May 31, 2018 / 3:36 AM / 25 days ago

Australian shares track up as Italy turmoil eases; NZ higher

* Materials and energy stocks lead climb

* Real estate drags after weak housing data on Wednesday

* NZ headed for best monthly gain since August 2016

By Devika Syamnath

May 31 (Reuters) - Australian shares enjoyed broad-based gains led largely by materials stocks as they tracked a global rally in equities as Italy’s political turmoil eased.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.4 percent or 25.8 points to 6010.5 at 0323 GMT. The benchmark lost 0.5 percent on Wednesday but is set for a monthly gain.

“What’s good for the goose should be good for the gander as a semblance of Italian political stability should reverse out some of yesterday’s local (Asia) cash market losses,” said Stephen Innes, Head of Trading APAC at OANDA.

Global markets were rattled earlier this week when Italy’s two anti-establishment parties scrapped plans to form a coalition, stoking fears of a general election that could become a referendum on euro membership.

A degree of calm, however, returned, with the parties renewing efforts to form a coalition government rather than force Italy into a second election this year.

Australia’s mining stocks charted a 1.7 percent climb and contributed the majority of gains on the benchmark after commodity stocks rose on upbeat metal prices.

Global mining heavyweights Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton gained up to 1.2 percent and 1.8 percent, respectively.

Energy stocks also added to gains, having climbed as much as 2.6 percent on an overnight surge in global oil prices.

Woodside Petroleum rose as much as 2.5 percent, while Santos Ltd tacked up 3.4 percent.

Santos said partners in the Gladstone liquefied natural gas (GLNG) plant will invest more than A$400 million ($302.56 million) in the Arcadia gas project to help boost its gas supply.

Three of Australia’s “Big Four” banks rose between 0.1 and 0.2 percent, while Commonwealth Bank Of Australia lost 0.6 percent and was the biggest drag on the benchmark.

Real estate stocks registered most of the losses on the index.

Scentre Group was the second biggest drag on the benchmark having fallen as much as 1.4 percent while Dexus and Goodman Group Pty Ltd fell by as much as 2 percent and 1.3 percent, respectively.

Australia’s housing activity slowed in April with approvals to build new homes down more than expected while non-residential permits also slipped in an ominous sign for economic growth.

Software developer MYOB Group was the top loser on the benchmark, dropping 6.2 percent to its lowest in more than two years after it scrapped its A$180 million ($136.15 million)acquisition of Reckon Ltd’s accounting practice software arm.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was 0.3 percent or 23.63 points higher at 8,671.49 by 0328 GMT. The benchmark is set for its best month since August 2016.

Consumer staple and healthcare stocks led gainers on the index, with A2 Milk Company Ltd and Fisher & Paykel Healthcare up as much as 2.5 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively. ($1 = 1.3221 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Devika Syamnath in Bengaluru; Editing by Eric Meijer)

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