* Market boosted by bigger-than-expected trade surplus
* Financials lead gains (Updates to close)
March 8 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose on Thursday, buoyed by positive sentiment after January’s trade surplus handsomely topped expectations.
The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.69 percent, or 40.9 points, to 5,942.9 by the end of trade. The benchmark dropped 1 percent in the previous session.
Australia posted a seasonally adjusted trade surplus of A$1.06 billion ($828.6 million) in January, beating a Reuters forecast of A$300 million, and in sharp contrast to December’s A$1.36 billion deficit.
Financial stocks spearheaded gains, ending 0.78 percent higher, with the ‘Big Four’ banks rising from 0.5 percent to 1.4 percent.
Commonwealth Bank of Australia was the biggest boost on the benchmark, ending up by 1.4 percent.
Biotherapeutics developer CSL ended 1.3 percent higher and online job portal Seek Ltd climbed about 3 percent.
Materials stocks were the only losers on S&P/ASX 200 , with the metals and mining index falling by 0.6 percent after the United States said it would slap heavy tariffs on imported steel and aluminium.
Shanghai rebar steel futures fell for a fifth session on Thursday to touch their lowest in almost two weeks. Shanghai Futures Exchange rebar futures were down 1.7 percent at 3,873 yuan ($612) a tonne by 0227 GMT
Iron ore prices on the Dalian Commodity Exchange fell as far as 510.50 yuan per tonne, the lowest since Feb. 2
Mining heavyweight BHP Billiton was the biggest drag on the benchmark, falling for a second consecutive session and ending 2.04 percent lower.
South32 Ltd followed, ending 1.57 percent lower.
Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.9 percent or 74.36 points to finish the session at 8,358.70.
Consumer staples led the gains with a2 Milk Company Ltd ending nearly 5 percent higher.
Telecommunications operator Spark New Zealand Ltd ended 1.62 percent higher.
Reporting by Syed Saif Hussain Naqvi in Bengaluru Editing by Eric Meijer