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Australia: Shares end 4% firmer as investors upbeat on easing virus cases

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[BENGALURU] Energy and healthcare sectors aided Australian shares to settle 4 per cent firmer on Monday, as coronavirus infections in key countries appeared to slow down, lifting investor appetite for risky bets.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was up 4.3 per cent at 5,286.80 at the close of trade, after the benchmark closed 1.7 per cent down on Friday.

Market sentiment improved after US President Donald Trump expressed hope the country was seeing a "levelling off" of the coronavirus crisis. This led US stock futures to rise during Asian trading.

"The improved sentiment in global markets is on signs that the rate of growth in new Covid-19 cases in several key places is slowing down. Most pertinently, I think the fall in new cases in New York, Spain and Italy," said Kyle Rodda, a market analyst at IG Markets.

"But yes, the fact this is the case in Australia too is responsible for the lift today."

Australian health officials said on Sunday they were cautiously optimistic about the slowing spread of the coronavirus in the country. The daily rate of infections was below 5 per cent by Sunday afternoon, about a fifth of what Australia saw in mid-March.

Energy stocks climbed 6.04 per cent, gaining the most among the benchmark's sub-indices, despite a fall in oil prices after Saudi Arabia and Russia postponed their meeting to Thursday.

"The market seems to think that it is not in Russia's, Saudi or US interest to have low oil prices... the thought is that they will all lower production to keep a higher price," Brad Smoling, managing director at Smoling Stockbroking said.

"The energy sector is smoking the hopeium that they will reach a deal."

Industry heavyweight Santos closed 8.5 per cent higher, while Woodside petroleum gained 6.4 per cent.

The healthcare sub-index settled up 4.9 per cent, helped by CSL that climbed 5.2 per cent to close at its highest since Feb 25, while Cochlear finished 5.1 per cent up.

Financial stocks ended nearly 5 per cent higher, with all the "Big Four" banks in the positive territory.

Australia's largest lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia advanced 3.9 per cent at session end, while peer Westpac Banking Corp gained 5.4 per cent.

Mining stocks rose 4.3 per cent, with the world's biggest miner BHP Group finishing 4.8 per cent higher at a one-month peak, while Rio Tinto climbed 1.6 per cent.

Meanwhile, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index dropped 1.7 per cent to finish the session at 9,763.82.

Kathmandu Holdings tumbled 9.1 per cent to close at its lowest since March 30, while movie software maker Vista Group fell 9 per cent. 

REUTERS

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