February 26, 2018 / 6:06 AM / 24 days ago

Aussie shares end at over 3-week high; NZ also up

* Australia & NZ shares gain for 4th straight session

* Financials lead gains in Australia (Updates to close)

Feb 26 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed higher for a fourth straight session on Monday, tracking a strong finish on Wall Street after the Federal Reserve eased concerns over its monetary policy stance for the year.

The Fed on Friday said it expected economic growth to remain steady and saw no serious risks on the horizon that might pause its planned pace of rate hikes, sending U.S. stocks higher.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.7 percent, or 42.4 points to 6,042.2, hitting a three-week high.

The ‘Big Four’ banks fueled much of the gains, rising between 1.3 percent and 1.9 percent. The benchmark financials index closed up 1.2 percent.

Retailer Woolworths Group closed 2.1 percent higher while Woodside Petroleum Ltd climbed 1.8 percent.

Top miner BHP Billiton closed 0.6 percent higher, and served as the biggest boost to the benchmark Metals & Mining index.

Base metal prices climbed on Monday, bolstered by reports over the weekend that base metal imports to China surged in January, underlining the country’s healthy demand.

But QBE Insurance Group dropped over 3 percent after reporting an annual loss of $1.25 billion, hurt by claims from natural disasters.

The country’s second-largest insurer by market size also said it will sell its Latin American business to Zurich Insurance for $408 million to focus on other markets.

Newcrest Mining shares closed 1.2 percent lower after announcing it had bought a 27 percent stake in Canadian miner Lundin Gold Inc for $250 million.

Mining heavyweight Rio Tinto inched 0.3 percent lower.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.5 percent, or 38.81 points, to close at 8,340.53, marking a fourth consecutive session of gains.

Summerset Group Holdings hit a record high and was the top gainer on the index, followed by Z Energy Ltd, which closed up 3.6 percent.

Summerset shares have been on the rise since the company reported a 54 percent jump in full-year profit on Friday. (Reporting by Nikhil Kurian Nainan in Bengaluru; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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