Australia shares up, aided by financials and healthcare; NZ at record high

* New Zealand benchmark closes at record high

* Financials snap 10 sessions of losses, but have a weekly loss

* Strong U.S. data, Wall St advance help Australian stocks (Updates to close)

March 22 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose on Friday, led by financial and healthcare stocks as the market tracked a rally on Wall Street after strong U.S. economic data eased worries about a slowing economy.

The S&P/ASX 200 index climbed 0.45 percent or 28 points to close at 6,195.2, an 0.3 percent gain during the week. The benchmark was flat on Thursday.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Federal Reserve surprised markets by abandoning all projections for rate hikes this year due to signs of softness in the U.S. economy.

However, strong economic data from U.S. on Thursday boosted Wall Street and helped soothe nerves. Initial claims for jobless benefits fell more than expected and mid-Atlantic factory activity rebounded sharply.

"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 brokerage.

Australian financial stocks rose 0.5 percent to snap 10 sessions of losses, but still had a loss of 0.7 percent for the week.

National Australia Bank Ltd gained 0.5 percent and Westpac Banking Corp 0.7 percent.

Funds and asset managers that fall sharply earlier in the week recovered. Perpetual Ltd was up 1.1 percent and AMP Ltd 0.5 percent.

Healthcare stocks also gained, with index heavyweight CSL Ltd adding 1.6 percent and Cochlear Ltd 1.3 percent.

Energy stocks moved up as oil prices hovered around 2019 highs scaled on Thursday, supported by supply cuts by producer cartel OPEC.

Woodside Petroleum Ltd rose 0.7 percent. Oil Search Ltd gained 1.8 percent, reaching a more than three-week high.

Mining stocks declined, led down by gold miners. Newcrest Mining Ltd fell 0.9 percent while St Barbara Ltd plunged nearly 30 percent to its lowest close in over 15 months.

St Barbara's drop came after it cut fiscal 2019 production guidance for its key Gwalia mine in Western Australia and said it will not proceed with its Gwalia Mass Extraction project due to costs being double the original capex forecast.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index closed at a record high, rising 0.95 percent or 89.68 points to finish the session at 9,550.99.

Dairy firm Synlait Milk was the top gainer, jumping 5.1 percent while a2 Milk Company Ltd moved up 0.7 percent. (Reporting by Rashmi Ashok in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Ambar Warrick; Editing by Richard Borsuk)

2019-03-22 08:08:33

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