February 16, 2018 / 1:36 AM / a year ago

Australia shares gain on improved sentiment, focus on earnings; NZ up

* Wall St gains, improved sentiment aid market

* Focus moves to companies’ results

* Materials slip

By Aaron Saldanha

Feb 16 (Reuters) - Australian shares edged higher on Friday on the back of improved global sentiment for equities as Wall Street gained for the fifth day, with the domestic focus on the earnings season.

Equities around the world have been on a rollercoaster ride recently on fears of rising inflation and interest rates, though many markets found their footing this week.

“It is going to be a results based play,” said Mathan Somasundaram, market portfolio strategist at Blue Ocean Equities.

“It is the end of the stocks reporting season, that is pretty much what is going to play out at this point.”

Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.3 percent on Friday to 5,924.1 by 0054 GMT, supported by financials and health care stocks.

The benchmark, which added 1.2 percent on Thursday, is set to end the week about 1.5 percent higher, partially recovering from a 4.6 percent loss the previous week.

Among the top gainers was Primary Health Care Ltd, which rose the most in more than eight months after posting a higher half year profit. Its shares were up 3.4 percent.

The Australian financial index rose to its highest in a little more than a week, led by Suncorp Group Ltd climbing as much as 3.3 percent.

The insurer recovered from a sell-off on Thursday after it reported a fall in half year profit due to a hailstorm in Melbourne.

“We will have to wait and see in the next couple of hours because when the global guys in Asia come in, I would expect them to buy the banks a bit more, so they would probably go higher,” Somasundaram said.

Moving in the other direction, materials accounted for Friday’s biggest losing sector, after driving Thursday’s gains.

The sector index fell the most in a week, though losses for mining majors BHP and Rio Tinto were relatively modest at 0.2 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand shares were on track to end the week marginally higher largely thanks to industrials and telecom stocks.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.5 percent, or 36.33 points, to 8,099.6.

Auckland International Airport Ltd gained the most in a month and was the biggest contributor to index gains, up 2.7 percent, after reporting favourable results.

Reporting by Aaron Saldanha in Bengaluru; Editing by Shri Navaratnam

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