Australia shares end 2% firmer as investors bet on post-lockdown recovery

(Updates to close)

* Australia export data shows “solid surplus” - analysts

* Afterpay up for fourth straight session

May 25 (Reuters) - Australian shares firmed more than 2% on Monday, as hopes that the global easing of coronavirus-induced restrictions will catalyse an economic recovery outweighed simmering tensions between the United States and China.

Buy-now-pay-later firm Afterpay starred again as it jumped 9% to a record high and helped the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 end 2.2% higher at 5,615.6.

New Zealand’s main bourse S&P/NZX 50 rose 1.1% to 10,775.8.

Australia and New Zealand have led the way for countries to progress with a staged reopening of their economies after gaining plaudits for containing the spread of the pandemic.

While schools reopened in New South Wales on Monday, New Zealand eased curbs on the size of public gatherings to 100 people from 10.

The Aussie index was also supported by preliminary data that showed demand for its resource commodities, mainly iron ore and gas, remained strong in April even as overall exports fell.

“Although the preliminary April trade goods balance (excluding service exports and imports) showed a sharp fall on March, it was still a very solid surplus,” ANZ analysts wrote.

They added that an expected ongoing decline in imports, along with the resource exports in April, suggests that trade balance was likely to perform well in the coming months as China continues to recover from the shock of the pandemic.

With Wall Street and UK markets shut, investors bought into Aussie equities even as the threat of a fresh tussle between Washington and Beijing sapped confidence in other Asian markets.

China proposed imposing national security laws on Hong Kong on Friday, drawing the ire of Washington, which said the move could lead to sanctions and threaten the city’s status as a financial hub.

All major sub-indexes on the Australian bourse added between 1% and 3.6%, with technology stocks hitting a three-month high on the back of gains in Afterpay.

Travel- and leisure-related firms were among the biggest gainers on the bourse, with Flight Centre Travel and Webjet surging roughly 16% each.

The number of issues on the ASX that advanced were 1,112, while 524 declined as a 2.1-to-1 ratio favoured advancers. There were 239 new highs and 216 new lows. (Reporting by Shashwat Awasthi in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)