Banks drive Australia shares higher on increasing rate cut bets

Credit: REUTERS/DAVID GRAY

March 8 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose on Friday to a record-high level, led by heavyweight financials, as investors increasingly bet on monetary policy easing after slower-than-expected domestic growth data.

The S&P/ASX 200 index .AXJO rose 0.7% to 7,820.8 points by 1221 GMT, set to log a third straight session of gains. The benchmark touched a record high of 7,825.1 points earlier in the session.

The index is also headed for a second consecutive weekly gain, rising 1.2% so far.

Earlier this week, the country's gross domestic product data restored hopes that the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) can possibly start cutting interest rates later this year.

The RBA is set to meet on March 19 to declare the country's cash rate, after shocking markets by hinting at a potential rate hike during its February meeting minutes.

Financials .AXFJ advanced 1.3% to its highest level in 16 years and was set to gain for the fifteenth straight week. The "Big Four" banks added between 0.6% and 1.3%.

National Australia Bank NAB.AX and Westpac Banking Corp WBC.AX are on track for the ninth and seventh week of gains, respectively.

Whereas, the country's top lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia CBA.AX touched a record high, while the fourth largest lender ANZ Group ANZ.AX hit a 5-1/2-year high.

Energy stocks .AXEJ rose 0.6%, with sector major Woodside Energy WDS.AX adding 0.2%.

Gold stocks .AXGD and Northern Star Resources NST.AX are positioned for their best week since Nov. 11, 2022.

On the other hand, miners .AXMM fell 0.1%, with BHP Group BHP.AX weighing on the sub-index. The world's largest miner lost 0.3% in ex-dividend trading.

Tech stocks .AXIJ tracked gains on Wall Street, rising as much as 1.2% to touch an over two-year high. The sub-index is set for the sixth straight week of gains.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index .NZ50 rose 0.3% or 39.1 points to 11,843.29.

(Reporting by Sneha Kumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Eileen Soreng)

((Sneha.kumar@thomsonreuters.com))

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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