April 29, 2020 / 7:28 AM / a month ago

Australia shares higher as virus restrictions ease, NZ falls

(Updates to close)

By Soumyajit Saha

April 29 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose on Wednesday, tracking Asian peers, after coronavirus-induced restrictions slowly eased around the world and as strong domestic inflation data supported sentiment.

The country’s headline consumer price index rose in the first quarter to lift annual inflation to 2.2%, its highest reading in five and a half years, but the long-desired pick-up is likely to be fleeting in the face of a coronavirus lockdown and collapsing energy prices.

A rise in Australia’s annual inflation helped soothe some nerves surrounding the underlying economic health of the economy, said Nick Twiddle, general manager at IC Markets.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 1.51% to 5,393.4 points, off 25.1% from its lifetime high and down 20.51% so far this year.

On the other hand, New Zealand’s benchmark index fell 0.9% to 10,666.19, weighed by losses in the healthcare and consumer sectors.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose by 0.9% on Wednesday as investors cheered the reopening of some parts of the United States, and countries, including Europe and Australia, gradually easing restrictions.

“I think the markets are starting to see the light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel,” Nick said, adding they were in a wait-and-watch mode for possible volatility.

The top percentage gainer on the Aussie index was Crown Resorts Ltd, up 10.93%, followed by Corporate Travel Management Ltd, gaining 10.5%.

Heavyweight Australian financial stocks, rose 3.88%, and boosted the main index as the “big four” banks traded in the green.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Westpac Banking Corp, National Australia Bank and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group rose between 4.2% and 6.3%.

The ASX 300 metals and mining index rose 0.91% as Chinese iron ore futures on the Dalian Commodity Exchange rose 0.2%.

Index heavyweights BHP Group rose 1.9% and Fortescue Metals Group gained 2.5%.

Brent crude futures rose 2.39%, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude jumped 9.4% boosting the Aussie energy sector up 5.2%

The Aussie dollar was 0.68% weaker against the U.S. dollar on Wednesday.

The number of issues on the ASX that advanced were 1,003 while 546 declined. There were 224 new highs and 216 new lows. (Reporting by Soumyajit Saha in Bengaluru; Editing by Amy Caren Daniel)

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