January 4, 2018 / 1:12 AM / a year ago

Australia shares touch decade-best levels; NZ at record high

Jan 4 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose to their best level in nearly 10 years on Thursday, with miners and healthcare stocks at the forefront as solid gains on Wall Street and strong oil prices also inspired buying in the region.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose as much as 0.5 percent to 6,102.2, its highest since January 2008. The benchmark had risen 0.2 percent on Wednesday.

On Wall Street, the S&P 500 index rose above 2,700 for the first time on Wednesday and other major indexes hit record closing highs as technology stocks climbed after signs of robust economic growth.

U.S. factory activity increased more than expected in December, boosted by a surge in new orders growth, in a further sign of strong economic momentum at the end of 2017.

Aussie shares were propped up by miner BHP Billiton , which also has a large exposure to oil, and Woodside Petroleum, after oil prices shot through the roof over escalating tensions in Iran, a major oil and gas producer.

“What’s going on here is that geopolitics is back in play as a result of the proxy war between the Saudis and Iranians across the region,” Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at CFD and FX provider AxiTrader, said in a note.

“But geopolitics has become a bigger factor now that the Iranian protest movement has launched into the open in the past week.”

BHP rose advanced 1.4 percent to its highest since May, 2015, and was headed for its eighth straight session of gains, while Woodside surged to a near two-and-a-half year high.

The Australian energy index climbed as much as 1 percent to its highest since July, 2015.

Elsewhere, a source said Vale SA is in talks with BHP over the future of their joint venture, Samarco Mineração SA, with a buyout of BHP’s stake in the venture by the Brazilian miner possibly on the table.

Healthcare giants CSL Ltd and Cochlear Ltd also contributed to the gains on the index, rising 1.6 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively.

Toll road developer Transurban Group capped the gains on the index, dropping 1.1 percent to its lowest in over three weeks.

Meanwhile, the benchmark New Zealand index continued to hover around record highs in low-volume trade, with Auckland International Airport moving up 2.1 percent to a two-week best. (Reporting by Chris Thomas in Bengaluru; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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