August 9, 2018 / 6:53 AM / 3 months ago

Australia shares end higher, earnings support; NZ up

* Financials, consumer discretionary stocks lead benchmark higher

* Brazilian court approves BHP settlement deal

* Rio Tinto loses 1.6 pct, trades ex-dividend (Updates to close)

Aug 9 (Reuters) - Australian shares ticked higher on Thursday as investors picked up winners in the earnings season, while gains for financials and deal news around insurer Suncorp Group helped the broader market.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.5 percent to reach 6,297.7, after putting on 0.2 percent on Wednesday.

Crown Resorts Ltd, Australia’s biggest casino operator, said its annual profit rose 12.7 percent, sending its shares up 6.7 percent to their highest close in over three years, as resurgent demand from high-stakes gamblers boosted turnover.

Suncorp Group, Australia’s second-largest general insurer, rose 4.7 percent on its plan to sell its life insurance division for A$725 million ($539.3 million), ending over a year of speculation on the sale.

“Even though some people expected more for the asset, it’s the fact that the deal has finally been done,” said Damian Rooney, director of equity sales at Argonaut.

“They have a fairly large amount of cash to return to shareholders now.”

The benchmark’s top gainer on the day was fund management firm Magellan Financial Group, which jumped 14.3 percent on reporting an 8 percent rise in full-year net profit.

In the other direction, Australia’s biggest power producer, AGL Energy, was among the benchmark’s biggest losers after a warning that it expects almost no profit growth this year, with wholesale prices dropping and a retail war persisting. The stock fell 4.1 percent.

Mining giant Rio Tinto dropped 1.6 percent to its lowest close in four months with its shares trading ex-dividend, while BHP, the world’s biggest miner, tacked on 0.1 percent.

BHP said on Thursday that a Brazilian federal court approved a deal with authorities in the country to settle a lawsuit worth 20 billion reais ($5.30 billion) over a 2015 dam failure that killed 19 people.

The miner separately agreed to pay $50 million as part of a settlement for a class action complaint filed by American depositary receipt holders over the disaster.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index climbed 0.7 percent to 8,940.19 on broad-based gains.

Index heavyweights Ryman Healthcare Ltd and Fletcher Building Ltd drove the index higher, rising 2.7 percent and 2.4 percent, respectively.

Stocks of New Zealand’s healthcare firms, most of which are largely export-reliant, were the benchmark’s most influential gainers, amid a weaker New Zealand dollar after the nation’s central bank committed to keep interest rates at record lows through to 2020. ($1 = 3.7716 reais) ($1 = 1.3443 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Aaron Saldanha in Bengaluru Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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