November 23, 2018 / 6:11 AM / 25 days ago

Australia shares close higher on banks, energy; NZ flat

* Australian stocks rise after falling to support level

* Financials and energy stocks underpin gains

* Benchmark posts weekly loss of 0.3 percent (Updates to close)

By Rashmi Ashok

Nov 23 (Reuters) - Australian shares extended gains in thin trade on Friday, fuelled by banks and energy stocks as the index continued to rise after falling to and bouncing back from an important support level earlier this week.

While broader Asian shares slipped amid worries over cooling global growth and trade tensions, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index climbed 0.44 percent or 24.90 points to 5,716.20 at the close of trade. However, the index fell 0.3 percent during the week.

“The 5,640 level is very important, it held the market for most of 2017. Again this week, when the market came under pressure, we saw the index plunge to that level and immediately recover back,” said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

Referring to the index’s jump of 0.9 percent in the previous session after falling to 5,642.8 on Wednesday, McCarthy added “a lot of traders are taking this as a technical signal that the likelihood that the market will rise is much higher because of that bounce off the board in the previous session”.

Financials tacked on 1.1 percent to underpin gains, with Westpac Banking Corp adding 1.4 percent and Commonwealth Bank of Australia firming 1 percent.

Going against the grain, energy stocks rose 0.5 percent despite Brent Crude oil futures falling to their lowest level since December 2017 on concerns of oversupply.

McCarthy attributed the gains to traders who were using steep falls in oil prices this week to buy cheapened stocks, adding “its traders playing on the idea that given the fall in oil prices, they’re looking for exposure to a bounce.”

Despite the bounce, energy stocks posted their biggest weekly loss since October end, off 3.8 percent for the week.

Sector heavyweight Woodside Petroleum Ltd rose 0.8 percent, while Origin Energy Ltd gained 0.6 percent.

Meanwhile, healthcare stocks and materials, both of which heavily depend on China for their income, traded lower.

The Australian dollar, seen as a proxy for China-related trades, eased on Friday.

Drugmaker CSL Ltd fell 1.5 percent, with the overall healthcare index closing 0.7 percent lower.

Meanwhile, the metals and mining index slipped lower after Dalian iron ore for January fell 2.4 percent.

Global miner BHP fell 0.7 percent, while rival Rio Tinto Ltd shed 0.3 percent

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was nearly flat, inching down 0.02 percent or 1.78 points to finish the session at 8,701.38.

Dairy firm a2 Milk Co Ltd gained 0.3 percent, while Fonterra Shareholders’ Fund fell 0.6 percent. (Reporting by Rashmi Ashok in Bengaluru, editing by Eric Meijer)

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