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Australia: Shares rise on healthcare, technology gains

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Australian shares inched higher on Thursday on their first trading day of the year, led by gains in healthcare and tech sectors amid thin trading volumes.

[BENGALURU] Australian shares inched higher on Thursday on their first trading day of the year, led by gains in healthcare and tech sectors amid thin trading volumes.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was up 0.13 per cent at 6,693.60 by 1.16am GMT (9.16am SGT), with volumes nearly a sixth of its 30-day moving average. The benchmark fell 1.8 per cent on Tuesday. Markets were closed for the New Year's Day public holiday on Wednesday.

Afterpay Ltd rose as much as 2.7 per cent and was among the top boosts to the Australian benchmark, after the Melbourne-based fintech firm said California had approved its lending license for the US state.

That came as California rejected a similar application for Sezzle Inc, an Afterpay competitor, knocking that stock down 19.1 per cent to its lowest since its July debut.

"They're (Afterpay) interpreting the report regarding the California decisions on the licence as a positive in terms of business," Brad Smoling, managing director at Smoling Stockbroking said.

Afterpay's gain helped the technology sector climb almost 1 per cent for its best session since Dec 27.

Drugmaker CSL advanced as much as 1 per cent, in its biggest intraday percentage gain in over a week, while Cochlear strengthened 1.3 per cent in its best session since Dec 18. This helped the healthcare index climb about 0.9 per cent higher.

The energy sector rose 0.4 per cent, helped by index heavyweight Santos which gained 0.7 per cent in its best session in over a week, while Woodside Petroleum rose as much as 0.4 per cent.

Oil prices notched the biggest annual gain in three years in 2019, supported by a thaw in the prolonged US-China trade war and ongoing supply cuts from major oil producers.

Meanwhile, the heavyweight Australian financial sector slipped as much as 0.6 per cent to a three-week low, with all the "big four" banks trading in the negative territory.

The broader mining index fell as much as 0.4 per cent to its lowest since Dec 24, due to a more than 1 per cent fall among gold-related stocks.

Gold miner Perseus Mining was among top losers in the mining sector, shedding as much as 3 per cent, while peer Dacian Gold dropped over 4 per cent.

New Zealand markets were closed for a public holiday.

REUTERS