June 15, 2018 / 7:00 AM / 5 months ago

Australian shares end higher, banks lead; NZ at record

* Bank stocks lead gains in Australia, materials help

* Sino-U.S. trade tensions could weigh on Monday - analyst

* NZ ends at a record (Updates to close)

June 15 (Reuters) - Banks led Australian shares to a higher finish on Friday, as a mixed policy outlook from the European Central Bank and the U.S. dollar’s resulting strength sent equities on a roll.

The ECB signalled on Thursday it would keep interest rates at record lows well into next year, overshadowing its pledge to end a massive bond purchase scheme by the end of 2018 in its most decisive step yet towards winding down crisis-era stimulus.

“The Aussie dollar is significantly weaker against the U.S. dollar...that’s given a bit of a boost to all the equity markets,” said Damian Rooney, director of equity sales at Argonaut.

However, U.S. President Donald Trump’s resolve to impose “pretty significant” tariffs on certain imports from China, Australia’s top importer, could upset stocks in the coming session, according to Rooney.

The S&P/ASX 200 index gained 1.3 percent on the day and 0.8 percent for the week.

Financial stocks were the best performers, snapping four falling sessions to rise 1.9 percent. The “Big Four” banks climbed between 0.8 percent and 2.3 percent.

Westpac, however, has been slapped with a lawsuit by Australia’s securities regulator alleging the provision of inappropriate financial advice.

This is the latest in a series of cases filed against participants of the financial sector which is under stringent regulatory scrutiny amid a powerful inquiry called Royal Commission.

Material stocks also rose, with top miners BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto up 0.5 percent and 1.3 percent, respectively.

Energy stocks such as Woodside Petroleum Ltd and Santos Ltd advanced as much as 1.6 percent and 2.8 percent each.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell slightly but still closed at a record high. It was down 2.43 points at 8,975.75.

The index advanced 0.4 percent this week.

Dairy products maker a2 Milk was the biggest boost to the index, up 3.5 percent. (Reporting by Devika Syamnath in Bengaluru, additional reporting by Nikhil Kurian Nainan; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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