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By Soumyajit Saha
April 30 (Reuters) - Australian shares settled 2.4% higher on Thursday, driven by gains in energy and financial stocks, and posted their first monthly gain in three.
The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 2.4% to 5,522.4, closing April nearly 9% higher after two consecutive months of falls. Last month, it slumped more than 21%.
“The market is hoping to move towards normality as virus restrictions ease... and people don’t want to miss out cashing in on a historic opportunity,” said Henry Jennings, senior analyst at Marcus Today Financial.
The New Zealand benchmark fell 1.3% to 10,532.07 but ended the month 7.5% higher, also its first monthly gain in three.
In Australia, energy stocks outperformed all other sectors on the back of a jump in crude oil prices. Worley Ltd led the gains with a jump of 17.34%, while Oil Search climbed 10.51%.
Brent crude futures rose 6.52% to $24.01 a barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude gained 11% to $16.72 per barrel.
Financial stocks rose nearly 3%, led by a surge in IOOF Holdings as the financial services company reported a strong growth in funds under management, advice and administration.
The “big four” banks rose between 1.4% and 4.1%, with Australia and New Zealand Banking Group adding 1.4% even after the lender posted an almost two-thirds plunge in first-half profit and deferred its interim dividend decision.
AP Eagers was the top percentage gainer on the benchmark index as the automotive retailer continued to implement cost-saving measures to weather the coronavirus-induced downturn.
Miners also advanced as firmer commodity prices lent support. Heavyweight Fortescue Metals Group surged more than 4% after the company hiked its annual iron ore shipments forecast and reported a rise in third-quarter shipments.
Miners were also helped by “respectable” PMI data from Australia’s largest trading partner, China, Jennings said.
Reporting by Soumyajit Saha in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Nikhil Nainan, Editing by Subhranshu Sahu