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Australia, New Zealand: Shares set for third day of gains ahead of US stimulus vote

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Australian shares rose on Thursday, with technology and healthcare stocks driving gains, as investors await the passage of a sweeping stimulus package in the United States to ease the economic damage wrought by the coronavirus pandemic.

[BENGALURU] Australian shares rose on Thursday, with technology and healthcare stocks driving gains, as investors await the passage of a sweeping stimulus package in the United States to ease the economic damage wrought by the coronavirus pandemic.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.6 per cent to 5,0281.5 by 0106 GMT, easing slightly from its highest level in more than a week. The benchmark finished 5.5 per cent higher on Wednesday.

US Senate leaders hoped to vote later on a US$2 trillion emergency package that still faces criticism despite top White House aides and senior senators from both the Republican and Democratic parties agreeing on the bill on Wednesday.

In Australia, healthcare stocks advanced nearly 3.3 per cent as blue-chip firm CSL and hospital operator Ramsay Health Care jumped 3.9 per cent and 10.1 per cent, respectively.

"Markets are rallying today on the news out of the US... (but) sentiment is still dominated by the uncertainty of what lies ahead and how long it will take to tame the pandemic," said James McGlew, executive director of corporate stockbroking at Argonaut.

With the virus death toll at nine in Australia, nationwide lockdowns and the resulting business impact has forced companies across sectors to slash jobs and withdraw their earnings outlook.

Flight Centre Travel Group said a third of its 20,000 workers face temporary or permanent redundancy, while Premier Investments shut its retail stores in Australia, saying the closures could impact over 9,000 employees.

Stronger oil prices boosted the energy index about 2.4 per cent higher to its highest in more than a week. Worley Limited was the top percentage gainer, climbing 8.4 per cent, while Oil Search jumped 7.5 per cent.

In the tech space, buy-now-pay-later firm Afterpay and EML Payments surged 14 per cent and 13.1 per cent, respectively.

Heavyweight financial stocks fell 1.6 per cent, offsetting gains on the benchmark.

Top lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia lost up to 3 per cent, while wealth manager AMP gave up 1.3 per cent after withdrawing its full-year earnings forecast.

Star Entertainment Group surged 20.9 per cent and was the best performer on the benchmark after Citigroup upgraded the casino operator to "buy".

Safe-haven gold stocks slipped as much as 3.7 per cent. Gold miner Northern Star Resources tumbled 12.7 per cent after pulling production and cost outlook for the year.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index gained 3.8 per cent, or 355.6 points, to 9,619.9.

Software company Gentrack Group jumped 19.4 per cent, while Tourism Holdings rose 10.5 per cent.

REUTERS