Australian shares rise on mining boost; adds 2% in March quarter
Benchmark snaps 7-week losing streak
Ends March quarter 2% higher
RBA to go for a final 25 bps hike - Reuters poll
RBNZ to downshift to 25 bps increase in April - Reuters poll
Updates to close
By Poonam Behura
March 31 (Reuters) -A rally in mining and gold stocks boosted Australian shares on Friday, ending the first quarter of 2023 about 2% higher, as the country's soft inflation data and easing global banking crisis fears raised bets of a pause in rate-hike cycle next week.
The S&P/ASX 200 index .AXJO ended the day 0.8% higher at 7,177.8 points, their highest close since March 9. The benchmark advanced 3.2% during the week, snapping a seven-week losing streak and notched 1.98% gains over March quarter.
Traders in Australia are hopeful of a pause in Reserve Bank of Australia's (RBA) policy meeting on April 4 as recent economic data suggests a cumulative 350 basis point (bps) hike since May last year have started to impact growth.
However, 14 of 27 economists polled by Reuters also predict that the RBA could go for a final 25 bps hike, while the remaining 13 of them saw a pause at 3.60%.
"We will see another rate hike by the RBA simply because inflation is moving in the right direction but is still stubbornly high," Josh Gilbert, market analyst at eToro said.
Meanwhile, in the aftermath of a banking crisis overseas, deposit competition among the country's lenders has picked up in the past few months, with upward pressure on wholesale funding costs expected to rise further, analysts at Morgan Stanley said in a note.
Back home, gold stocks .AXGD rallied 2.2% to a near 11-month high. Resolute Mining RSG.AX soared 8.3% and was the top gainer on the sub-index.
Miners .AXMM advanced 2.1%, staging their biggest weekly gain since early November, with majors like Rio Tinto RIO.AX and BHP Group BHP.AX adding 2.5% each.
New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index .NZ50 fell 0.4% to finish the session at 11,884.5.
The Reserve Bank of New Zealand is expected to scale back its tightening pace to a quarter-point rate hike on April 5, a Reuters poll showed, although economists were split on where the rates would peak.
Reporting by Poonam Behura; editing by Uttaresh Venkateshwaran
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