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Australia shares end at 20-month high; New Zealand up


[REUTERS] Australian shares closed firmer on Monday posting their fifth straight session of gains, pushed up by financials and healthcare companies, in line with US stocks hitting new highs.

The S&P/ASX 200 index ended the session up 0.9 per cent, or 51.819 points, to 5,807.4, its highest close since May 5, 2015.

The financial sector was up with the index gaining 1.5 per cent, pushed up by the "Big Four" banks rising more than 1 per cent each.

Healthcare stocks led gainers on the main index, with CSL Ltd ending up 1.6 per cent at its highest since Oct 21 after the European Commission granted marketing authorisation for haemophilia drug AFSTYLA developed by CSL's unit.

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Ramsay Healthcare also gained 3 per cent to its highest since Nov 14.

On the other hand, basic material stocks lost as Australia's Department of Industry, Innovation and Science has forecast a steep decline in iron ore prices, its most valuable export commodity, calling an end to an unexpected rally fuelled by strong demand from China.

Iron ore producer Fortescue Metals lost 3.8 per cent to end at its lowest in more than two weeks. BHP Billiton shed 0.1 per cent while Rio Tinto declined 1.3 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index closed 0.6 per cent higher, or 42.08 points, to finish the session at 7,012.74, its highest close since Oct 17 Financial and industrial stocks pulled up the index as Westpac Banking Corp gained 1.8 per cent while Auckland International Airport added 1.6 per cent.

On the losing side, consumer cyclicals eased with Fletcher Building shedding nearly 2 per cent in its third consecutive session.