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Australia, NZ: Shares gain on improving risk mood

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[SYDNEY] Australian shares rose 0.6 per cent on Monday as firmer oil prices underpinned risk sentiment, but the index was on track for its second month of losses, in contrast to its New Zealand cousin which looked set to post a hefty monthly gain.

The S&P/ASX 200 index added 29.34 points to 4,909.3 by 0257 GMT, pulling away from a two-year trough touched earlier in the month.

Gains were across the board with industrial and healthcare stocks the star performers.

Still, the benchmark has skidded 2 per cent this month and comes on top of a 5.5 per cent drop in January.

Much of the weakness was due to worries about global growth and tumbling oil prices.

Toll road developer Macquarie Atlas Roads Group jumped 2.3 per cent on Monday to hit a fresh record peak, having posted strong annual profits last week.

National airline Qantas Airways jumped 1.5 per cent after Moody's moved its credit ratings back to investment grade from speculative.

Logistics provider Brambles gained 1.3 per cent to touch its highest since 2007.

Pet product retailer Greencross climbed 4.1 per cent to a 10-month peak. The company rejected earlier this month a takeover offer from a consortium of private equity players.

Miners also gained, with Rio Tinto up 1.4 per cent and BHP Billiton 0.7 per cent higher as investors warmed to the idea that perhaps the worst of the commodity rout was over.

The better mood spread to financials which have suffered from general risk aversion in recent weeks.

Westpac Bank gained 1.6 per cent, while Macquarie Group rose 1.2 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was trading 0.4 per cent or 23.57 points higher Monday at 6,248.55. It was set to show an increase of 1.2 per cent for the month.

The biggest gainers included small-cap Pacific Edge , which jumped 25 per cent on news it reached a deal to market its bladder cancer detection technology to the US Veterans Administration, the nation's largest integrated health care system.

Diligent was trading up 0.3 per cent after reporting a solid result, but Forsyth Barr Investment Advisor Dave Schaper said investors are waiting for more news on a possible takeover by venture-capital firm Insight Venture Partners.

The biggest losers were Contact Energy, which was down 2.2 per cent and Meridian Energy, which was down 2.0 per cent.


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