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Australia shares rise to 17-month high in strong start to 2017
January 3, 2017 / 1:59 AM / 8 months ago

Australia shares rise to 17-month high in strong start to 2017

Jan 3 (Reuters) - Financials and materials lifted Australian shares to a near 17-month high on the first trading day of the year, with the benchmark topping 5,700 points.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 58.9 points, or 1 percent, to 5,724.7 by 0123 GMT, its highest since August 2015.

The index climbed 7 percent in 2016, its best yearly performance since 2013, as gains in most commodity prices powered a bull run among miners.

The financial sector accounted for most of the gains on Tuesday, led by Australia and New Zealand Banking Group , Australia's third-largest bank by market cap, which rose as much as 1.7 percent to touch a 16-month high. It was the single biggest contributor to the benchmark's gains.

The bank said it would sell its stake in Shanghai Rural Commercial Bank Co Ltd to China COSCO Shipping and Shanghai Sino-Poland Enterprise Management Development for A$1.8 billion ($1.3 billion).

The sale is expected to increase the bank's APRA CET1 capital ratio by around 40 basis points.

"Gains in financials are definitely broad-based. There are specific situations such as (ANZ's stake sale) that are clearly positive - but gains are right across the board," said James McGlew, executive director of corporate stockbroking at Argonaut.

The benchmark also got a lift from miners, with BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto rising 1.6 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively. Chinese steel and iron ore prices snapped long losing streaks in 2016.

Retail giants Wesfarmers Ltd and Woolworths Ltd both rose more than 1 percent.

Oil major Woodside Petroleum climbed 1.6 percent while Beach Energy was up 1.8 percent. U.S. oil prices rose in the first trading hours of 2017 on Tuesday, buoyed by a deal for OPEC and non-OPEC production cuts which kicked off on Sunday.

At the other end, the gold index slipped 1.1 percent after prices for the precious metal eased on Friday as gains from a weak dollar was offset by profit-taking at the end of a year in which bullion gained about 8 percent.

Gold miner Evolution Mining fell 1.9 percent while Newcrest Mining slid 1.3 percent.

Volumes were largely tepid, with 126.6 million shares changing hands, around 20 percent of the 30-day average of 641.6 million shares, according to Thomson Reuters data.

New Zealand's share market was closed for a public holiday and will re-open on Wednesday. The benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index gained 8.8 percent in 2016.

For more individual stocks activity click on ($1 = 1.3899 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Shashwat Pradhan; Additional reporting by Aparajita Saxena in Bengaluru; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

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