* Banks and materials push up Australian shares
* Energy stocks rally on higher oil prices
* Santos jumps after setting new dividend target
By Aditya Soni
June 28 (Reuters) - Banks and materials stocks led modest gains in Australian shares on Thursday, though a fall in the real estate sector kept the benchmark in check.
The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.2 percent or 14.80 points to 6,211.10 by 0244 GMT. The benchmark fell 1.7 points on Wednesday.
A recovery in base metals on the London Metal Exchange and higher iron prices in China helped to drive strong gains in the Australian materials stocks.
Global miner BHP jumped 1.4 percent to a more than two-week high, leading gains on the benchmark, while rival Rio Tinto Ltd climbed 0.9 percent.
Financials, which account for nearly half of the main index, also underpinned the bullish sentiment, rising 0.5 percent to their highest since June 21.
Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at AxiTrader, said financials were rising because the Australian market is largely yield and dividend driven.
Top lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia rose 0.7 percent, while Macquarie Group Ltd gained 2.2 percent to a record high.
Meanwhile, U.S. crude futures jumped on Wednesday, boosting Australia’s oil-focused firms.
Oil prices have rallied on uncertainty about Libyan exports, a production disruption in Canada and Washington’s demands that importers stop buying Iranian crude from November.
Woodside Petroleum Ltd firmed 1.7 percent to a three-year high, while Origin Energy Ltd rose 1.4 percent.
Santos Ltd also advanced, rising 2 percent to its highest level since May 22. The country’s No. 2 independent gas producer said it will resume its dividend payment policy earlier than expected, citing a favourable oil price cycle.
Real estate stocks fell, capping the gains on the benchmark.
“There is groundswell of opinion growing that overall the Australian real estate market, whether it is retail or commercial, has got some downside,” said McKenna.
The once-booming Australian property market has slowed as Beijing cracks down on money flowing out of top international real estate investor China, and Australian banks restrict lending to foreign investors.
Real estate firm Stockland Corporation Ltd slipped 3.8 percent to a more than two-month low, while Goodman Group Pty Ltd dipped 2.2 percent to a two-week low.
In New Zealand the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.2 percent or 17.27 points to 9,013.79.
Utilities accounted for most of the gains, with Contact Energy Ltd rising 1 percent, while Mercury NZ Ltd firmed 1.4 percent. (Reporting by Aditya Soni in Bengaluru Additional reporting by Mensholong Lepcha Editing by Darren Schuettler)