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Australia, NZ shares gain as vaccine euphoria lifts recovery hopes

* Energy stocks jump to their highest since July 3

* Financials extend gains; CBA records highest level since Aug 13

* RBNZ keeps rates at record low, unveils funding-for-lending facility (Updates to close)

Nov 11 (Reuters) - Australia shares ended higher on Wednesday for a fifth consecutive session, powered by financial and energy stocks, as promising news regarding an effective COVID-19 vaccine stoked hopes of a swift global economic recovery.

The Australian benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index closed 1.7% firmer at 6449.7, after scaling to its highest level since March 3 during the session.

Pfizer Inc’s announcement on Monday about its COVID-19 vaccine candidate, developed with German partner BioNTech SE, being more than 90% effective in preventing infection has led global investors back to battered airline, travel and tourism stocks.

“The reflation trade continues to work in earnest and the rotation to the unloved areas of the market continues,” Pepperstone’s Chris Weston wrote in a note.

Australia’s flag carrier Qantas Airways extended gains into a third straight session, while travel booking firm Webjet jumped nearly 4% to register a seventh session of gains.

The energy index rose as much as 5.1% to its highest level since July 3 as crude prices strengthened.

Whitehaven Coal and Oil Search were the top gainers in the sub-index, climbing 8.9% and 7.6%, respectively.

Woodside Petroleum added more than 6% after the country’s largest independent gas producer reaffirmed that its Scarborough and Pluto Train 2 liquefied natural gas project is on track for a final investment decision in the second half of 2021.

Australia’s heavyweight financial stocks advanced 2.3%, with shares of Commonwealth Bank of Australia, the country’s largest lender, rising 2.8% even as it reported a first-quarter cash profit drop.

Gold stocks fell 1.7%, as the vaccine-led euphoria drove investors towards riskier assets, denting bullion’s safe-haven appeal.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index ended up 0.4% at 12665.63.

The country’s central bank introduced a funding facility on Wednesday that would reduce costs for lenders while it held its benchmark rate at record low.

“Unless the RBNZ can ensure this lending predominantly supports businesses, it is often easier for cheap funding to simply fuel more mortgage lending,” analysts at ING said in a note. (Reporting by Deepali Saxena, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)

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