March 22, 2019 / 1:22 AM / 9 months ago

Australia, New Zealand shares follow Wall Street rally

* Aussie financials set to snap 10-day declines

* NZ heads for seventh straight weekly gain

* Navitas rises after accepting buyout offer

By Shanima A

March 22 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose on Friday, tracking gains on Wall Street after strong U.S. economic data eased concerns about a cooling economy, with financials and healthcare stocks boosting the local benchmark.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.9 percent, or 54.6 points, to 6,220.3 by 0033 GMT to a two-week high, and was on course for a weekly gain of 0.7 percent.

On Wednesday, the Fed surprised markets with a policy statement that was more dovish than expected, abandoning projections for more rate hikes this year due to signs of softness in the U.S. economy.

However, data on Thursday showed the number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits fell more than expected and mid-Atlantic factory activity rebounded sharply, pointing to economic strength.

“The markets are seeing the world slightly differently after the Fed meeting and this is not an Australian-centric move. This is a global equity move driven by what we’ve seen in U.S. stocks,” said Chris Weston, Head of Research at Pepperstone.

Local financial stocks were on track to snap 10 sessions of declines, rising 0.4 percent. Australia’s “big four” banks rose between 0.7 percent and 1 percent. Interest rate-sensitive banking stocks fell 0.3 percent on Thursday, after the Fed affirmed its dovish stance.

The healthcare sub-index advanced 2.4 percent, with heavyweight CSL Ltd putting on as much as 2.8 percent, while Cochlear Ltd was another major gainer, rising 3.1 percent.

The ASX technology sub-index hit a record high, rising 1.3 percent to track U.S. peers after blue-chip Apple Inc boosted the sector on Wall Street.

Resource stocks declined 0.5 percent, with gold stocks weighing on the index as prices retreated from three-week highs.

Top gold miners Newcrest Mining Ltd and Evolution Mining Ltd fell 0.8 percent and 3 percent respectively.

Gold producer St Barbara Ltd slumped more than 30 percent after it said it would not proceed with the Gwalia Mass Extraction project in Western Australia and slashed its production outlook for the project.

Navitas Ltd tacked on 2.5 percent, after the adult education provider agreed to a A$2.09 billion ($1.49 billion) takeover offer by a consortium after trading hours on Thursday.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.7 percent or 67.53 points to 9,528.84 at 0038 GMT. The index was heading for its seventh straight weekly gain.

Diary processor Synlait Milk Ltd and Air New Zealand Ltd were the top percentage gainers on the index, rising 4.7 percent and 4.5 percent, respectively.

Reporting by Shanima A in Bengaluru Additional reporting by Ambar Warrick; editing by Richard Pullin

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