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Australia shares near 1-year high on BHP's record dividend, strong profit

* BHP posts best H1 profit in seven years, shares up 2.5%

* NAB points to improving economy, shares up 2.3%

* NZ bourse recovers, gains as much as 0.8%

Feb 16 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose on Tuesday to their highest in nearly a year, driven by BHP Group after the miner posted strong profit and declared a record interim dividend, while a surge in commodity prices further lifted mining and energy stocks.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was up 0.3% at 6,888.3 by 2330 GMT. It rose up to 0.7% earlier in the session to hit 6,913.70, its highest since Feb. 25, 2020.

Miners were the biggest boosts to the benchmark, jumping 1.7% to their highest since Jan. 27.

BHP Group rose 2.5% on reporting its best first-half profit in seven years and declaring a record interim dividend. It also said it expects strong Chinese demand to continue in 2021.

“The stronger report (from BHP) against a backdrop of growth positive moves overnight should see a constructive start to Asia Pacific trading today,” said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets and Stockbroking.

Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals Group, which are scheduled to release their results later in the week, advanced as much as 3.8% and 1.7%, respectively.

Miners were also helped by strong copper prices, which jumped to their highest since 2012 on Monday.

Financials gained 1.1%, with three of the “Big Four” banks trading in positive territory.

Shares of the country’s second-biggest lender, National Australia Bank, were up 2.3% after the bank posted a pickup in first-quarter profit from the previous two quarters, and pointed to encouraging signs on the economy.

Top lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia lost up to 1.3%, weighing on the benchmark.

Among other gainers, energy stocks climbed as much as 1.6%, pushed by an overnight jump in oil prices as COVID-19 vaccine rollouts promised to revive demand.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index bounced back, rising as much as 0.8% to 12,608.27. (Reporting by Sameer Manekar in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)

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