Australia shares end higher on financials

SYDNEY: Australian shares closed at a near two-year high on Thursday, as the drag in the telecom sector was offset by gains in financial and material stocks.
The S&P/ASX 200 index ended 0.1 percent higher, or 7.23 points, at 5,816.3, its highest close since May 5, 2015. In the previous session, the benchmark finished up 0.9 percent.
The financials index rose to its highest in over a month.
Stocks tracked Wall Street as the U.S. market indexes pushed further into record-high territory on Wednesday, helped by upbeat retail sales data for January and ongoing optimism that President Donald Trump will cut corporate taxes.
Three of the "Big 4" banks climbed to a five-week high, while ANZ edged up 0.77 percent, its highest since Jan. 17.
S&P/ASX 200 materials index soared to more-than-two-year high, as heavyweights BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto gained more than 1 percent each.
Healthcare stocks lent further support to gains.
CSL Ltd added 3.5 percent, extending gains after it reported strong half-year earnings on Wednesday.
On the other hand, the telecom index dived 6.4 percent to its biggest closing low since Nov. 16, 2016, after Telstra Corp, Australia's largest telecom company, recorded a plunge in half-year profit.