January 7, 2020 / 6:01 AM / in a month

Australian shares climb as Middle East fears cool; NZ flat

* Financial index hits over 2-week closing high

* Sezzle surges 42% on U.S. lending licence hopes

* Ingenia Communities falls as bushfires to hurt earnings (Updates to close)

By Niyati Shetty

Jan 7 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose on Tuesday, led by gains in financial and healthcare stocks, as an absence of a further escalation in U.S.-Iran tensions revived investor appetite for riskier assets.

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed up 1.4%, or 90.70 points, to 6,826.40, after ending flat on Monday.

“In the instant gratification world we live in, a lack of immediate action by Iran has, in fact, seen the haven momentum wane overnight,” Jeffrey Halley, a senior market analyst for Asia Pacific at OANDA, said in a note to clients.

Longtime foes Tehran and Washington have been in a war of words since Friday, when Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani was killed in a U.S. drone strike, prompting fears of a broader regional conflict.

The financials sub-index gained 1.5% to a more than two-week closing high, with the “Big Four” Australian banks jumping between 1.2% and 1.8%.

Third largest lender National Australia Bank Ltd added 1.4%, while Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd rose 1.3%.

CSL Ltd ended up 2.4% as Morgan Stanley said the drugmaker has the “most positive business momentum” in the healthcare sector for the year.

Buy-now-pay-later firm Sezzle Inc surged 41.9%, after the U.S.-based firm appeared upbeat on expectations of a successful outcome for its lending licence application in California.

Bucking the trend, the gold index retreated 2.1% as a rest in Middle East tensions dented bullion prices and safe-haven appeal.

Gold miner Resolute Mining Ltd fell 3.9% and was the worst performer on the ASX benchmark, while Regis Resources lost 3.6%.

Property manager Ingenia Communities Group declined 3.8% after it flagged lower fiscal 2020 earnings growth due to the impact of the Australian bushfires on tourism.

In neighbouring New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index ended little changed at 11,627.32.

Utilities firm Meridian Energy Ltd gained 3%, while Auckland International Airport Ltd lost 1.5%. (Reporting by Niyati Shetty in Bengaluru; Editing by Rashmi Aich)

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