February 2, 2015 / 2:06 AM / 3 years ago

Australia shares hit 4-month high as rate cut hope eclipses US, China

* Interest rate cut expected Tuesday

* Eclipses weak U.S., China data

* Commodities prices fuel resources rally (Adds analysis, quotes, stocks on the move)

SYDNEY/WELLINGTON, Feb 2 (Reuters) - Australian shares climbed to a fresh four-month high on Monday as investors shrugged off lacklustre economic figures from the United States and China to bet on an expected central bank rate cut pumping extra cash into equities.

Bounces in key commodities prices at the weekend also pushed resources stocks higher.

In less than six months, economists have changed from predicting that the Reserve Bank of Australia would lift interest rates in 2015 to tipping a rate cut at the central bank's next meeting on Tuesday.

That has overshadowed a weaker lead from Wall St, where stocks fell on Friday amid concerns about weak U.S. growth data and the possibility that instability in Europe will hurt corporate earnings.

Meanwhile, China's Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) unexpectedly shrank for the first time in nearly 2-1/2 years in January, according to figures released at the weekend.

"Everyone's just sitting waiting to see what the rates do tomorrow," said Quay Equities director Andrew West, noting unusually light turnover.

"The PMI was quite weak out of China over the weekend, but oil had a good run so that's keeping some of the resources stocks up."

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.6 percent or 33.3 points by 0130 GMT, its highest intraday level since Sept. 5. The benchmark has risen for each of past eight sessions.

Mining giant BHP Billiton rose 1.8 percent and Rio Tinto edged up 0.1 percent as commodities rose across the board.

Horizon Oil led oil stocks higher, echoing a rebound in the oil price, up 8 percent and the biggest gainer in the index. Rival Beach Energy jumped 5.2 percent, the fifth biggest gainer, and oil giant Santos grew 1.7 percent.

Gold giant Newcrest Mining rose 2.8 percent and smaller gold player Evolution Mining jumped 7 percent after the gold price gained ground.

Banks, which stand to write more home loans if rates go down, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group and Westpac Banking Corp each rose 0.3 percent while Commonwealth Bank of Australia added 0.4 percent.

New Zealand shares were flat as investors consolidated after stocks' record breaking 3.1 percent ascent through January.

The benchmark NZX-50 index firmed three points to 5,747.2, with telecommunications stock Spark, the market's second biggest by capitalisation, leading with a 2.3 percent gain.

The biggest loser was outdoor clothing and equipment retailer Kathmandu, which plunged 24 percent to a 2-1/2 year low after warning it expects a first-half loss on weaker than expected sales.

Dairy company Synlait Milk fell 4.1 percent after cutting its forecast payout to suppliers because of weak global prices.

Reporting by Byron Kaye and Giles Beckford

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