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Australia: Shares close near two-yr high, oil stocks support

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares closed near a two-year high on Monday, as energy and material stocks found support from higher global oil prices.

The S&P/ASX 200 index ended the session 0.9 per cent, or 50.43 points, higher at 5,912.9.

The market edged higher on the back of oil producers and energy-related companies, with the benchmark energy index rising to its highest in 19 months.

Oil majors Woodside Petroleum Ltd closed 0.7 per cent higher, while Oil Search Ltd gained 0.9 per cent.

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Shares of BHP Billiton Ltd, which has significant exposure to the oil sector, closed 4.6 per cent higher.

The sector found support from global oil prices, which rose on Monday because of strong demand and uncertainty over the conflict in Syria, following the US missile attack on a Syrian airbase last week.

Although Syria is not a major oil producer, any escalation of the conflict feeds fears about oil supplies due to the country's location and alliances with big oil producers in the region.

Financials, the biggest index constituent, finished up 0.8 per cent, with the 'Big Four' banks ending in positive territory ahead of earnings season. "People now would be a bit wary of selling the banks too much, as we are anticipating that there will be some pretty good results," said Ric Spooner, chief market strategist at CMC markets.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index finished the session flat at 7,238.86 points. Utility stocks were a drag on the index, capping gains in financial and consumer staples.

Shares of power generation company Meridian Energy Ltd closed 1.9 per cent lower, while honey producer Comvita Ltd ended up 2.3 per cent.