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Australian shares extend 14-month high gains as banks rally

Thursday, 4 Oct 2012 | 2:59 AM ET

SYDNEY, Oct 4 (Reuters) - Australian shares extended their gains by 0.3 percent on Thursday, hitting a 14-month high after banks offset losses in mining, as investors eyed further interest rate cuts in the wake of soft retail sales data.

Australian retail sales edged up only marginally in August due to weak spending on household goods and clothing, adding to the case for further interest rate cuts. The central bank cut rates to a three-year low of 2.75 percent on Tuesday.

Top banks continued this week's post rate-cut gains, led by Westpac Banking Corp

which jumped 1.6 percent to close at A$25.57, a two-and-a-half year high.

"Banks are having a good week, but they're looking toppish. I think they're going to hold their ground, but I don't see much upside at current prices," said Peter Esho, analyst at City Index.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index

rose 13.8 points to 4,452.4, its highest close since August 1, 2011.

Among the major miners BHP Billiton

fell 1.3 percent while Newcrest Mining lost 2.1 percent. Rio Tinto

bucked the trend, rising 0.4 percent.

Defensive stocks also made gains, with blood products maker CSL

rising 0.4 percent and supermarket giant Woolworths

jumping 1.2 percent.

Australian surfwear company Billabong International

tumbled 18.3 percent to A$1.075 after a report said its last remaining bidder, private equity firm TPG Capital Management

might follow former suitors and ditch its takeover offer for the surfwear retailer.

New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index

finished 0.2 percent or 7.6 points lower to 3,882.

(Reporting by Thuy Ong, additional reporting by Miranda Maxwell; Editing by Richard Pullin)

((thuy.ong@thomsonreuters.com)(+61 2 9373 1236))

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