February 23, 2018 / 2:09 AM / 3 months ago

Australia shares rise, helped by financials; NZ higher too

* CBA shares up after statement on govt claims

* Benchmark touches highest point since Feb 6

* Energy stocks track oil prices higher

By Aaron Saldanha

Feb 23 (Reuters) - Australian shares advanced on Friday after good earnings results, and investors took in their stride that Commonwealth Bank of Australia admitted “in part” to some claims against it by the country’s financial intelligence agency.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was up 0.6 percent, or 34.4 points, to 5,985.3 at 0102 GMT. The benchmark, which gained 0.1 percent on Thursday, reached its highest point since Feb. 6 with help from materials and financials.

One of the contributors to the index’s rise was CBA , which climbed as much as 0.6 percent after denying most of the 100 additional claims made against it in a lawsuit by authorities alleging breaches of anti-money laundering laws.

Mathan Somasundaram, market portfolio strategist at Blue Ocean Equities, said CBA “will take partial blame, put up a number, do the deal and move on... the number will be something irrelevant when you look at their profit figure, it is a one-off”.

The benchmark’s top gainer was data centre operator NEXTDC Ltd, up as much as 20.9 percent to an all-time high after reporting a jump in half-year core earnings.

Global miner BHP was 1.4 percent higher as it recovered for a second day, after falling for the week through Wednesday. Rio Tinto Ltd gained as much as 1.4 percent, after Chinese iron ore prices ticked up.

Energy stocks edged up 0.7 percent, after Brent crude futures settled up about 1.5 percent, boosted by a surprise draw in U.S. crude inventories and a drop in the dollar. Fuel supplier Caltex Australia Ltd, rose as much as 1.9 percent, making it the sectoral index’s top contributor. Litigation financier IMF Bentham slumped as much as 16.4 percent, the most in more than 8-1/2 years, after reporting a half year attributable loss.

Consumer staples fell on Friday. Woolworths Group Ltd slid as much as 3.3 percent after reporting an increase in half-year profit of about 15 percent.

“Woolworths at the moment is being priced as a growth story when it is a turnaround story. There is a catch up from optimism to reality,” said Blue Ocean Equities’ Somasundaram.

In New Zealand, health care stocks and industrials supported the S&P/NZX 50 index, which rose 0.4 percent, or 29.42 points, to 8,296.3.

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corporation gained as much as 1.6 percent.

a2 Milk Company Ltd fell as much as 4.6 percent, after hitting record highs for two consecutive days after reporting a record half-year profit, due to Chinese demand. (Reporting by Aaron Saldanha in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Sumeet Gaikwad; Editing by Richard Borsuk)

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