January 24, 2018 / 6:05 AM / a year ago

Australian shares finish higher, QBE leads; NZ up

* Aussie shares rise 0.3 pct to over 1-week best

* QBE up 5.4 pct, biggest boost to index

* NZ shares up 0.2 pct ahead of inflation data; dairy, I.T. stocks lead (Updates to close)

Jan 24 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed higher on Wednesday, boosted by financial and healthcare stocks, with QBE Insurance topping the charts with a 5.4 percent jump.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.3 percent or 17.7 points to 6,054.7, its best close in over a week. The benchmark climbed 0.8 percent on Tuesday.

Australia’s biggest insurer QBE Insurance led the gains on the index, climbing 5.4 percent in its best session since Nov. 2016 as investors spotted the upside following a sharp fall in the previous session.

The insurer’s shares fell as much as 6 percent on Tuesday after it flagged a surprise record annual loss of about $1.2 billion, battered by payouts related to natural disasters.

It also said it would conduct a strategic review of its Latin American business.

“The FY18 guidance looks conservatively set and higher quality,” Morgan Stanley said in a note. “The outlook is for a cleaner QBE portfolio, with greater underwriting discipline, supported by improving fundamentals.”

Macquarie Group Ltd, Australia’s biggest investment bank, rose 1.6 percent to end at an all-time high.

Healthcare giants CSL Ltd and Cochlear Ltd gained 0.9 percent and 3.5 percent, respectively. CSL closed at a record high.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia capped the gains on the index, falling 0.8 percent towards the end of the session to finish at its weakest since early December.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.2 percent or 16.46 points to finish the session at 8,324.09, ahead of inflation data due on Thursday.

Inflation is seen having held steady in the fourth quarter, surpassing central bank expectations, but still unlikely to undermine the bank’s determination to keep rates on hold at record lows.

A2 Milk Company was among the top performers on the index, up 2.6 percent to finish at a record.

Payment solutions provider Pushpay Holdings led the gains with a 5.5 percent jump - its best day in nearly six weeks. (Reporting by Chris Thomas in Bengaluru; Editing by Eric Meijer)

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