August 24, 2018 / 7:19 AM / 3 months ago

Australian shares end slightly higher after Morrison win ends political uncertainty; NZ up

* Healthcare index posts record closing high

* Financial index falls for the 5th straight session (Updates to close)

By Sumeet Gaikwad

Aug 24 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed marginally higher on Friday after Treasurer Scott Morrison won a party leadership vote, putting him on track to become the country’s new prime minister and ending a week of political turmoil that hit market sentiment.

Morrison, who will be Australia’s sixth prime minister in less than 10 years, emerged victorious from a three-way race with former home affairs minister Peter Dutton and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

“I think Scott Morrison as the new prime minister is, by far, the more preferred candidate from the market point of view,” said James McGlew, executive director of corporate stockbroking at Argonaut.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.05 percent to 6,247.3 at the close of trade, having risen as much as 0.5 percent earlier in the session. The index fell 1.5 percent during the week.

The benchmark edged higher on the back of gains in healthcare and consumer staples but losses in commodities and financials firms capped a wider rally.

The Australian healthcare index closed at a record high with heavyweights CSL Ltd and Cochlear rising 3 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively.

“Any of these companies with strong offshore earnings clearly benefit from the softening Australian dollar. The momentum is all for the downside,” said McGlew.

The Australian dollar rallied higher on Friday after the leadership vote, which ended days of political uncertainty, having fallen 1.7 percent over the previous two sessions.

The financial index fell 0.5 percent to post a two-month closing low. The index has fallen over 4 percent this week.

Three of Australia’s “big four” banks ended lower, with the second biggest lender, Westpac Banking Corp, the biggest drag, slipped over 2 percent. Westpac on Friday reported lower net interest margins for the third quarter amid higher funding costs.

“I think that one of the things we are looking for in our banks is their forecast levels of impairment from bad debts in particular,” McGlew added.

Consumer stocks lent support to the benchmark with Wesfarmers and Woolworths Group rising 1.5 percent and 1.95 percent, respectively.

Commodity markets were lower as the U.S.-China trade dispute escalated after the world’s two largest economies implemented punitive 25 percent tariffs on $16 billion worth of each other’s goods.

The gold index fell nearly 3 percent with Newcrest Mining posting an over 19-month closing low.

Copper, Shanghai rebar steel futures and gold fell on Thursday as the U.S.-China trade dispute weighed along-with a strengthened dollar on expectations of hike in U.S. interest rates soon.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.22 percent or 19.76 points to finish the session at 9,159.63.

Medical devices maker Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corp led the gains, rising 0.9 percent, while Trade Me Group followed suit to add 2.6 percent. (Reporting by Sumeet Gaikwad in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Nikhil Nainan; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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