May 18, 2020 / 7:06 AM / 17 days ago

Australia shares end higher as rising commodity prices boost miners, energy stocks

* Gold stocks gain for fourth consecutive session

* Ramsay Health Care jumps on deals with two governments

* Utilities, consumer stocks boost NZ shares (Updates to close)

By Soumyajit Saha

May 18 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed higher on Monday, driven by gains in mining and energy stocks as the heavyweight sectors benefited from climbing prices of their respective underlying commodities.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 1.03% to 5,460.5 points on Monday. It is down 19.14% so far this year.

The subindex for mining stocks ended nearly 5% higher as iron ore prices in top steel producer China hit a record peak, helped by port inventory of the steelmaking raw material dropping to a more than three-year low.

“It’s pretty much it between the commodity-driven sectors today, as slow re-openings of markets are somewhat helping shore up prices,” said Henry Jennings, senior analyst at Marcustoday Financial.

Copper prices also climbed as reopening of some economies boosted hopes of a revival in demand for metals.

BHP Group, the world’s biggest miner soared 4.5%, while peer Rio Tinto jumped 5.8%.

Gold stocks jumped 6% to register their fourth consecutive session of gains, as demand for the underlying safe haven commodity grew amid dismal economic data from top economy United States.

Gold rose 1.12% to $1,763.20.

Australia’s largest independent gold miner Newcrest Mining added as much as 7% to hit its highest since Jan 28.

Energy stocks saw their best day in almost two weeks as oil prices were supported by output cuts and signs of gradual demand recovery amid easing coronavirus curbs.

Brent crude futures rose 3.51% while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude gained 4.38%.

Oil & gas explorer Santos Ltd surged over 7% in its best day in May, while peer Oil Search Ltd hit an almost two-week high.

Healthcare stocks were higher, with CSL Ltd ending over 1% higher.

Ramsay Health Care Ltd gained nearly 4% after finalising deals with the Western Australia government and UK’s National Health Service to provide services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Financial stocks were lower, with the ‘Big Four’ banks falling in the range of 1.2% and 2.3%.

“There is a clear lack of good news for the banking sector, and their weight on the index means any gains by the market will be capped unless we see concrete positive signs,” Jennings said

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index ended 0.3% higher, helped by gains among utility and consumer stocks.

A2 Milk Company advanced 2.6%, while Meridian Energy ended 2% higher. (Reporting by Soumyajit Saha in Bengaluru; Editing by Rashmi Aich)

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