November 19, 2015 / 2:13 AM / 5 years ago

Australia shares hit 2-week high on Wall Street strength

SYDNEY/WELLINGTON, Nov 19 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose firmly on Thursday in the wake of Wall Street’s solid gains after Federal Reserve minutes indicated belief that U.S. interest rates can increase in December without causing an abrupt market reaction.

Stocks were up across the board. At 0145 GMT, the S&P/ASX 200 was up 1.5 percent or 77.19 points to 5,209.9, its highest level in two weeks.

The index, which edged up 0.3 percent on Wednesday, is on track for its best weekly performance since the week ended Oct. 9.

“We are just following the lead that has been provided by U.S. markets overnight,” Chris Conway, head of research and trading, Australian Stock Report said.

“Our commodities sector which is a fairly significant portion of the market is getting a bump today as well, because we saw some commodity price strength overnight, so really our market is firing on all cylinders today.”

International payments company OzForex was the top gainer on the index after Western Union made a A$888 million takeover proposal. The stock jumped 32 percent to a more than 18-month high.

The heavyweight resources sector propped the index higher with Newcrest Mining jumping 4.6 percent, Rio Tinto rose 4.3 percent and BHP Billiton up 2.4 percent.

BHP Billiton will be on the radar with its annual general meeting and a news conference later in the day.

National Australia Bank gained 2.1 percent, ANZ rose 1.9 percent, while Westpac Bank and Commonwealth Bank were up 1.6 and 1.3 percent respectively.

U.S. stocks closed higher and investors appeared positively inclined toward higher rates after minutes of the October Fed meeting showed a solid core of officials rallied behind a possible December rate hike, and that further increases would be gradual.

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New Zealand’s benchmark NZX 50 index rose 0.1 percent or 6.46 points to 5,986.27 on Thursday.

The biggest gainers included Trade Me, up 2.4 percent at NZ$3.85 and Heartland NZ, up 1.5 percent at NZ$1.32.

Among the biggest losers was Trustpower, down 2.2 percent at NZ$7.58. Earlier, the company said it completed an energy assessment of its Snowtown 2 Wind Farm in South Australia for the 12 months following commissioning of the last wind turbine.

Property funds manager Augusta Capital Ltd rose as much as 2.6 percent after agreeing to purchase a supermarket property.

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