March 7, 2017 / 6:53 AM / 2 years ago

Australia shares finish in positive territory; NZ falls

(Updates to close)

March 7 (Reuters) - Australian shares ended marginally higher on Tuesday, after the central bank held interest rates unchanged, a widely expected decision given policymakers recently signalled a steady outlook for much of the year ahead.

The Reserve Bank of Australia left its cash rate at a record low of 1.5 percent in its monthly policy meeting on Tuesday.

Globally, markets await this week’s U.S. jobs data to ascertain the likely pace of interest rate rises.

Investors widely expect the Federal Reserve to raise rates at its March 14-15 meeting.

The S&P/ASX 200 index finished 0.3 percent, or 14.89 points, higher at 5,761.40.

The index “has been underperforming compared to the rest of the world over the last 6 to 12 weeks,” said Evan Lucas, market strategist at IG Markets, adding “it does have a gap to catch up to.”

The index gained 1.4 percent this year till close of trade on Monday, compared with the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 Index’s rise of about 6 percent.

Financials, consumer staples and healthcare stocks were among the biggest gainers on the index, while materials stocks lost the most.

Financials rose 0.4 percent, with Westpac Banking Corp and National Australia Bank leading the pack, rising more than 0.7 percent.

Consumer stocks Woolworths Ltd and Wesfarmers Ltd rose 1.6 percent and 1.1 percent, respectively.

Biotherapeutics company CSL Limited and hearing implants maker Cochlear Ltd rose 1.1 percent and 1.7 percent.

Aussie healthcare stocks specially CSL “took off” on news that Obamacare is going to be repealed, Lucas said.

On the other hand, the metals and mining index fell 0.7 percent, with BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto falling 1 percent and 0.8 percent, respectively.

Iron ore shipments to China from Port Hedland terminal, used by BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals Group, fell 12 percent in February from the month before due to heavy rain, port data showed on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, shares in Fortescue gained 1.1 percent.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.2 percent, or 11.11 points, at 7,167.63.

Industrials and utilities dragged the index, with Auckland International Airport falling 1.8 percent, and Meridian Energy Ltd shedding 1.1 percent.

$1 = 1.3130 Australian dollars Reporting by Krishna V Kurup in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Susan Mathew; Editing by Jacqueline Wong

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