November 8, 2018 / 6:02 AM / 12 days ago

Australia shares close near 3-week high after Wall St rally; NZ rises

* Financial and healthcare stocks drive gains

* New Zealand closes at its highest in 3-weeks (Updates to close)

By Rashmi Ashok

Nov 8 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed higher on Thursday boosted by financial stocks, riding a wave of relief on Wall Street which rallied as U.S. midterm election results came in largely as expected.

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed 0.53 percent or 31.3 points up at 5,928.200, near a three-week high.

Gains were driven by financial stocks which rose 1 percent. Top gainers were Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd which closed 1.8 percent and 2 percent higher, respectively.

Australia’s banking regulator said on Thursday it wants to raise the amount of spare cash banks carry to withstand any future financial shock, adding to pressure on a sector already embarrassed by a public inquiry that exposed widespread misconduct in the financial industry.

Damian Rooney, director of equity sales at Argonaut, said the higher cash requirement had been expected and was already priced into banks’ share prices.

Aussie healthcare sector, which has high exposure to U.S. markets, rose 1.2 percent with index heavyweight CSL Ltd gaining 1.3 percent while Cochlear Ltd edged up 1.1 percent.

Noting U.S. President Donald Trump’s criticism of the U.S. healthcare sector and pharmaceutical companies’ pricing, Rooney expected better export prospects for healthcare and pharmaceutical companies, as U.S. President Donald Trump’s criticism of their pricing appeared less of a risk now that his Republicans had lost control of the House. “It probably takes a little bit of pressure off the healthcare sector. Most of our pharmaceutical companies look to export into their market, I think that’s the main reason we’re up,” Rooney said.

Gains in Wall Street were led by healthcare stocks, among others.

Metals and mining stocks were marginally lower, capping gains on the benchmark, as weak steel and iron prices weighed following Beijing’s move to relax curbs on production during winter.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index ended 0.47 percent or 41.22 points to finish the session at 8,896.01, its highest close in three weeks.

Dairy firm a2 Milk Company Ltd closed 1.6 percent higher. (Reporting by Rashmi Ashok in Bengaluru; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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