February 8, 2018 / 5:59 AM / 3 months ago

Australia shares end higher after NAB earnings; NZ slips

* Aussie shares rise 0.2 percent

* NAB leads gains after rise in Q1 cash earnings

* Materials fall on weak commodities prices

* NZ dips telecom stocks and industrials (Updates to close)

Feb 8 (Reuters) - Australian shares firmed on Thursday, led by a rally in financials after National Australia Bank Ltd reported a 3 percent rise in first-quarter unaudited cash profit.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.24 percent or 13.900 points to close at 5,890.700. The benchmark added 0.8 percent on Wednesay.

Shares of NAB, the country’s fourth-biggest bank by market value, rose 2.3 percent for its biggest percentage gain in nearly seven months.

It posted unaudited cash earnings of A$1.65 billion ($1.29 billion) for the three months ended Dec. 31.

The Australian financial index added 0.8 points, and accounted for most of the S&P/ASX 200’s gains.

AMP Ltd, Australia’s largest wealth manager, was also among the top gainers as it surged 3.6 percent after more than doubling its full-year underlying earnings.

Meanwhile, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group rose 0.8 percent after saying it would close its retail banking operation in Laos to focus on institutional banking there.

Materials stocks fell, tracking a downturn in global commodity prices. The Australian metals and mining index dipped about 1 percent, led by miners BHP and Rio Tinto .

Rio Tinto slid nearly 1 percent despite announcing a record dividend payout for 2017 on Wednesay.

New Zealand’s S&P/NZX 50 index slid 0.2 percent or 17.59 points to close at 8,177.14.

Telecom stocks and industrials led the decline on the benchmark, with Spark New Zealand Ltd dipping 1.4 percent and Auckland International Airport Ltd falling to its lowest in about 3-1/2 week low.

New Zealand’s central bank kept interest rates steady at their record low on Thursday and said volatility in equity markets this week was a warning sign that global markets are nervous about the risk of higher inflation and rising interest rates.

Reporting by Aditya Soni in Bengaluru; Editing by Eric Meijer

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