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Australia: Westpac, oil prices drive stocks higher; New Zealand up

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The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.8 per cent, or 52.50 points, to 6,783.90 by 1243 GMT, after adding 0.3 per cent on Monday.

[BENGALURU] Australian shares clocked broad gains on Monday as Sino-US trade deal optimism boosted market sentiment, while Westpac Banking Corp snapped four sessions of declines after the scandal-hit lender's chief executive resigned.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.8 per cent, or 52.50 points, to 6,783.90 by 1243 GMT, after adding 0.3 per cent on Monday.

Westpac said its chief executive will step down and its chairman will bring forward his retirement as a money-laundering scandal rocked the country's second-largest retail bank. The leadership changes sent its shares up as much as 2.1 per cent.

"They will be up for more fines and issues but at the end of the day it will pass just like many of the other issues from the Royal Commission," said Brad Smoling, managing director at Smoling Stockbroking, referring to a public inquiry that found widespread misconduct in the financial sector.

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Westpac shares slumped 8 per cent over the previous four trading days since the financial regulator announced its lawsuit, wiping A$7.5 billion off the bank's market value.

The financial sub-index advanced with No. 1 lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia and National Australia Bank gaining 0.5 per cent and 0.7 per cent, respectively.

Bank of Queensland, however, fell 9.1 per cent to a near seven-year low and was the worst performer on the benchmark ASX index, after announcing a A$250 million discounted placement on Monday.

Meanwhile, Wall Street stocks hit new highs overnight on renewed hopes that the United States and China would reach a "phase one" trade pact to end their bruising tariff war before the end of the year.

Rising oil prices lifted the energy sub-index 2.3 per cent, with heavyweights Woodside Petroleum and Oil Search rising 1.5 per cent and 1.4 per cent, respectively.

Caltex Australia surged 12.7 per cent to a 15-month high, after announcing a A$8.61 billion (S$8 billion) revised indicative takeover offer from Canadian convenience store operator Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc.

BHP Group was marginally higher, a day after the world's biggest miner said it would pay US$21.9 million to become the top shareholder in Ecuador-focused SolGold.

Rio Tinto rose 0.7 per cent, while Fortescue Metals Group Ltd added as much as 2.2 per cent to its highest since July 2008, as demand concerns fuelled a rise in iron ore prices.

Export-oriented healthcare stocks gained 1.3 per cent to a record high, with local shares of US-based Resmed Inc advancing 1.7 per cent and drugmaker CSL Ltd rising 1.6 per cent.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index added 0.6 per cent, or 62.24 points, to 11,015.91.

Fuel distributor Z Energy and utilities firm Meridian Energy were among the top performers on the index, rising 3.1 per cent and 2.9 per cent, respectively.

REUTERS