April 19, 2018 / 6:41 AM / a month ago

Resources rally boosts Australia shares; NZ flat

* Aussie shares buoyed by miners, AMP caps gains

* NZ shares flat as healthcare, telcos fall (Updates to close)

April 19 (Reuters) - Australian shares finished higher for a fifth straight session on Thursday as a rally in commodity prices drove up resources stocks.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.3 percent or 19.60 points to 5,881.0 at the close of trade. The benchmark rose 0.3 percent on Wednesday.

Fears of tightening supply of aluminium and nickel following U.S. sanctions on Russian mining giant Rusal sent prices of the metals to multi-year highs, while oil climbed as top exporter Saudi Arabia continued to withhold supplies.

BHP Billiton was the biggest boost to the index, up 2.8 percent after reporting an 8 pct rise in third-quarter iron ore shipments.

“It was largely expected that BHP’s iron ore expansion was done, and so this increase in production of about 8 percent in the quarter was a surprise to the market,” said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

Chinese iron ore futures rose more than 4 percent on Thursday, supported by expectations that a move by China’s central bank to reduce the amount of cash lenders must keep as reserves would help spur steel demand.

BHP rival Rio Tinto rose 3.1 percent, while South32 jumped 4.6 percent.

Alumina Ltd rode strong aluminium prices to settle 7.1 percent higher at a near-decade best.

Losses in financial stocks amid an inquiry into the sector capped the gains on the index.

Wealth manager AMP Ltd fell 2.9 percent to its worst close in over four years.

Earlier this week, the inquiry into the sector heard that AMP lied to Australia’s corporate watchdog for almost a decade to cover its widespread practice of charging customers for services it did not provide.

Meanwhile, data showed Australian employment barely rose in March and a sharp downward revision to February’s figures ruined a record-breaking run of gains, a disappointing outcome that hurt the local dollar and reinforced the case against a rate hike.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index pared early gains to finish the session marginally higher.

Dairy firm a2 Milk Company ended up 2.8 percent, while Synlait Milk rose 3.1 percent to a record close.

Headline inflation fell to just 1.1 percent in the first quarter, suggesting the country’s central bank is all but certain to signal it will keep rates on hold for some time.

Falls in healthcare and telecom stocks scaled back the index’ gains, with Ryman Healthcare and Spark New Zealand down between 1-1.4 percent. (Reporting by Chris Thomas in Bengaluru Editing by Eric Meijer)

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