July 3, 2018 / 6:43 AM / 9 months ago

Australian shares close higher as financials lead charge; NZ up

* Aussie central nbank keeps rates unchanged

* Big Four banks gain, help drive benchmark higher

* Rio Tinto slides to 8-week low (Updates to close)

By Nikhil Nainan

July 3 (Reuters) - Financials helped drive Australian shares higher on Tuesday, the same day the country’s central bank kept rates unchanged in a widely expected decision.

The S&P/ASX 200 index climbed 0.5 percent to close at 6,210.2. The benchmark had fallen 0.3 percent on Monday.

Late into the session, the Reserve Bank of Australia said it kept its cash rate at 1.5 percent, an accommodative stance that policymakers have signalled will continue for some time to come.

Financial stocks saw healthy gains over the session, following a somewhat subdued start, with the main financial index rising close to 1 percent.

The so-called “Big Four” banks all traded in positive territory, up between 0.7 percent and 1.8 percent.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia led the gains, while Australia and New Zealand Banking snapped two sessions of heavy losses incurred after warning of continued difficult trading conditions in the foreseeable future.

Weaker commodity prices countered some of the improving sentiment in the rest of the market, prompting selling in material stocks as investors fretted over concerns of falling demand from China because of escalating Sino-U.S. trade tensions.

Top miner BHP fell 1.6 percent, while Rio Tinto slid 3 percent to a near two-month low.

Healthcare stocks, which earn a substantial portion of their income in the United States and benefit from a weaker Aussie dollar, were the second biggest contributors to overall gains.

The Aussie dollar once again slipped to recent lows as global trade tensions manifested in weaker Chinese asset prices.

Index heavyweight biotherapeutics company CSL Ltd, climbed 1.7 percent to an over one-week high.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 1.2 percent, or 111.12 points to finish the session at 9,053.59.

A2 Milk Company closed 3.2 percent higher after Synlait Milk extended a supply agreement by two years for a2 Platinum infant formula and other products. (Reporting by Nikhil Kurian Nainan in Bengaluru)

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