* NZ slips as a2 Milk drags
* Australia shares rise for third straight day
* NAB closes branches nationwide on security threat
Nov 18 (Reuters) - Australian shares hit a near nine-month
high on Wednesday, bolstered by the financial sector after the
country's central bank governor assured that rising house prices
were not a cause for concern, while New Zealand snapped an
11-day winning streak.
Rising for the third straight session, the S&P/ASX 200 index
ended 0.5% higher at 6,531.1, its highest closing since
Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Philip Lowe said he was
not worried about rising home prices yet because demand is
weaker due to slow population growth this year.
"Some of the dire predictions for the housing market have
not come to fruition," said Henry Jennings, a senior analyst and
portfolio manager at Marcustoday Financial Newsletter.
"We're seeing good lending numbers from the mortgage brokers
as well, which has helped the banks."
The financial sub-index closed up 1.7%, hitting its
highest since early March. The 'Big Four' banks rose between
1.2% and 2.2%, despite National Australia Bank closing
all its branches across the country due to a "physical security
"At the moment, the banking sector seems to be the one
people are playing for," Jennings said.
Other major sub indexes were subdued, with technology
and gold stocks closing flat, while miners
Energy stocks fell 0.7% after bigger-than-expected
build in U.S. crude stocks and weaker U.S. retail sales stoked
fears over fuel demand. Shares of Oil Search and Santos
were among the biggest drags.
Trading in Crown Resorts was halted, soon before an
Australian gambling regulator said it was suspending the licence
of the casino giant until completion of an inquiry, delaying its
plan to open a A$2.2 billion resort in Sydney next month.
In New Zealand, the benchmark index closed 1.2%
lower, snapping an eleven-session rally, dragged down by a2 Milk
falling most in over seven weeks on an uncertain
(Reporting by Arundhati Dutta in Bengaluru; Editing by Rashmi