June 15, 2018 / 3:08 AM / 9 months ago

Banks lead Australia shares higher, NZ at record

* Banks and materials lead gains on ASX

* Qantas Airways weighs most after “jolt” from wake turbulence

* NZ at record, consumer stocks help

By Devika Syamnath

June 15 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose on Friday, led by banks and mining companies, as a cautious European Central bank policy decision pushed the U.S. dollar higher against other currencies.

The ECB signalled on Thursday it would retain interest rates at record lows well into next year, longer than some market watchers had expected.

That overshadowed the ECB’s pledge to end its massive bond purchase scheme by the end of 2018 in its most decisive step yet towards winding down crisis-era stimulus.

“(ECB President) Mario Draghi, in Europe, talking about tapering, pushed the U.S. dollar higher and the Aussie dollar is a beneficiary of that... the Aussie dollar is significantly weaker against the U.S. dollar and that’s given a bit of a boost to all the equity markets,” said Damian Rooney, director of equity sales at Argonaut.

By 0300 GMT, the S&P/ASX 200 index was up 1.3 percent or 78.6 points to 6,095.2. The benchmark had declined 0.1 percent on Thursday.

Financial stocks snapped four falling sessions to rise as much as 1.3 percent. The “Big Four” banks climbed between 0.9 percent and 1.7 percent.

Australia & New Zealand Banking Group said on Thursday it will cut about 60 staff positions from its markets division across the world due to “challenging” conditions and “ongoing headwinds”.

Material stocks also rose, with top miners BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto up 0.9 percent and 1.3 percent, respectively.

BHP on Thursday approved spending $2.9 billion to develop its Western Australian South Flank iron ore project in the central Pilbara, and said the quality of the mineral would raise the overall grade of its regional output.

Energy stocks Woodside Petroleum Ltd and Santos Ltd advanced as much as 1.9 percent and 2.6 percent each.

Beach Energy Ltd is looking to buy local oil and gas company Quadrant Energy, media reported here, sending Beach shares up as much as 4.4 percent.

Elsewhere, Sirtex Medical Ltd added up to 5.3 percent to its best level since October 2016 after it chose a takeover offer of $1.4 billion from Chinese bidders on Thursday, rejecting one from U.S. company Varian Medical Systems.

Qantas Airways Ltd was the top drag on the main index, falling 0.5 percent after one of its A380 jets suffered a rare “jolt” from wake turbulence.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index touched its third consecutive intraday record and was 19.49 points higher at 8,997.67 at 0211 GMT.

Dairy products maker a2 Milk was the biggest boost to the index, up 1.8 percent. (Reporting by Devika Syamnath in Bengaluru, additional reporting by Nikhil Kurian Nainan; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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