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Australia shares end at over 7-mth high as restrictions ease in Victoria

10/19/2020 | 02:04am

* ASX at over seven-month high

* Easing restrictions in Victoria lift sentiment

* South32 marks best day since Aug. 21

Oct 19 (Reuters) - Australian shares ended at their highest in more than seven months on Monday after the state of Victoria, the country's coronavirus outbreak epicentre, eased months-long movement restrictions.

Driven by gains in financial and healthcare stocks, the S&P/ASX 200 index gained 0.9% to 6,229.40 - its highest since March 6.

Victoria, Australia's second-most populous state, will see more freedom of movement as of Monday, with the state government eyeing the reopening of restaurants and retail stores by Nov. 1.

"In terms of economic recovery, the first step is obviously (to) get the economy moving again and that involves scaling back restrictions," said James Tao, market analyst at CommSec. The heavyweight financial index climbed 1.2%, with all the "Big Four" banks finishing higher.

"The possible increase in positive business conditions translates into less pressure on the financials," said Brad Smoling, managing director at Smoling Stockbroking.

Global sentiment also improved after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi raised hopes that a coronavirus relief package could be passed before the presidential election.

Data released earlier on Monday showed China's economic recovery accelerated in the third quarter, but missed expectations. Strong monthly figures, however, pointed to an expansion in economic activity.

The data from China is "still a pretty decent number considering you've got basically every other major economy in the world going backwards ... and by some margin as well," CommSec's Tao said.

Healthcare stocks gained 1.6% to close at a near two-month high, propped up by a 1.7% rise in CSL and a 2.2% climb in Cochlear.

Miner South32 posted its biggest one-day percentage gain since Aug. 21 after posting a 3.2% rise in quarterly manganese ore production.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index, slipped 0.4% to 12,385.25.

The top losers were Meridian Energy Ltd, down 3.54%, followed by Serko Ltd, losing 3.27%. (Reporting by Nikhil Subba in Bengaluru; Editing by Aditya Soni)

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