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Financials boost ASX as energy sector lags

Australian shares have made solid gains on Thursday and closed just shy of 6,300 points, with financial and consumer stocks driving gains after positive results for Suncorp and Crown and outweighing a drop in the energy sector.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 ended the day up 29.2 points, or 0.47 per cent at 6,297.7 points, while the All Ordinaries index was up 28.7 points, or 0.45 per cent, at 6,383.6 points.

Crown Resorts posted a normalised annual profit up 12.7 per cent to $386.6 million and signalled that Chinese high-roller gamblers were returning.

The casino group's shares soared 6.7 per cent to $14.21 - their highest close in more than three years.

Suncorp, Australia's second-largest general insurer, rose 4.7 per cent to $15.70 as it showed an improved second half in its full-year results and announced its plan to sell its life insurance division for $725 million, ending over a year of speculation on the sale.

"Even though some people expected more for the asset, it's the fact that the deal has finally been done," said Damian Rooney, director of equity sales at Argonaut.

"They have a fairly large amount of cash to return to shareholders now."

The benchmark's top gainer on the day was fund management firm Magellan Financial Group, which jumped 14.3 per cent to $27.60 on reporting an eight per cent rise in full-year net profit.

In the other direction, Australia's biggest power producer, AGL Energy, was among the benchmark's biggest losers after a warning that it expects almost no profit growth this year, with wholesale prices dropping and a retail war persisting.

AGL shares fell 90 cents, or 4.1 per cent, to $21.11.

Mining giant Rio Tinto dropped 1.6 per cent to its lowest close in four months with its shares trading ex-dividend, while BHP, the world's biggest miner, tacked on 0.1 per cent.

BHP said on Thursday that a Brazilian federal court approved a deal with authorities in the country to settle a lawsuit worth 20 billion reais ($US5.30 billion) over a 2015 dam failure that killed 19 people.

The miner separately agreed to pay $US50 million as part of a settlement for a class action complaint filed by American depositary receipt holders over the disaster.

The Australian dollar was at 74.31 US cents at 1700 AEST, up from 74.23 US cents on Wednesday.

ON THE ASX:

* The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index closed up 29.2 points, or 0.47 per cent, at 6,297.7 points.

* The broader All Ordinaries index was up 28.7 points, or 0.45 per cent, at 6,383.6 points.

* The SPI200 futures contract was up 32 points, or 0.5 per cent, at 6,239 points at 1630 AEST.

CURRENCY SNAPSHOT AT 1700 AEST:

One Australian dollar buys:

* 74.31 US cents, from 74.23 US cents on Wednesday

* 82.503 Japanese yen, from 82.473

* 64.04 euro cents, from 63.91

* 57.72 British pence, from 57.37

* 111.55 NZ cents, from 109.98

GOLD:

The spot price of gold in Sydney at 1700 AEST was $US1,213.848 per fine ounce, down from $US1,214.10 per fine ounce on Tuesday.

Austrlaian Associated PressBack to Breaking News

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