Australian shares end higher on gold stocks boost, banks cap gains

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Jan 20 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed higher on Thursday as upbeat results and firm bullion prices helped the gold sub-index surge 7%, although the gains were capped by banks following earnings reports from their U.S. peers.

The S&P/ASX 200 index (.AXJO) ended 0.1% higher at 7,342.40, snapping a two-day losing streak but still hovering near a one-month low hit in the previous session.

Gold stocks (.AXGD) soared 7.3% in their best session since April 2020, as Northern Star Resources (NST.AX) and Resolute Mining jumped 11.4% and 5.1%, respectively, after robust results.

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Bullion prices aided gains as they steadied near a two-month high hit in the previous session.

Financials (.AXFJ) dropped 0.8% to a near one-month low, with top lenders Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA.AX) and National Australia Bank (NAB.AX) declining 0.7% and 1.3%, respectively.

Damian Rooney, director of equity sales at Argonaut, cited results from big U.S. banks this week as a possible catalyst for weakness in domestic bank shares. read more

Local tech stocks (.AXIJ) fell 0.6%, tracking their Wall Street peers lower after the tech-heavy Nasdaq (.IXIC) entered correction territory overnight.

Altium (ALU.AX) and Computershare (CPU.AX) declined 1.6% and 1.3%, respectively.

Rooney attributed the slide in tech shares to markets "moving more towards a tightening cycle with Fed's minutes," with many betting on a certain interest rate hike in March.

Australia's central bank may also start raising rates as soon as August, analysts at Westpac said, as they expect a pick-up in inflation and wage growth to outweigh the drag on economic activity from rising coronavirus cases.

Meanwhile, data showed on Thursday that the country's jobless rate fell to its lowest since 2008. read more

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index (.NZ50) fell 0.9% to 12,497.10.

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Reporting by Upasana Singh in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V

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