* Energy stocks end 6% higher
* “Big Four” banks end in positive territory
* NZ closes lower (Updates to close)
By Nikhil Subba
April 6 (Reuters) - Energy and healthcare sectors aided Australian shares to settle 4% firmer on Monday, as coronavirus infections in key countries appeared to slow down, lifting investor appetite for risky bets.
The S&P/ASX 200 index was up 4.3% at 5,286.80 at the close of trade, after the benchmark closed 1.7% down on Friday.
Market sentiment improved after U.S. President Donald Trump expressed hope the country was seeing a “levelling off” of the coronavirus crisis. This led U.S. stock futures to rise during Asian trading.
“The improved sentiment in global markets is on signs that the rate of growth in new COVID-19 cases in several key places is slowing down. Most pertinently, I think the fall in new cases in New York, Spain and Italy,” said Kyle Rodda, a market analyst at IG Markets.
“But yes, the fact this is the case in Australia too is responsible for the lift today.”
Australian health officials said on Sunday they were cautiously optimistic about the slowing spread of the coronavirus in the country. The daily rate of infections was below 5% by Sunday afternoon, about a fifth of what Australia saw in mid-March.
Energy stocks climbed 6.04%, gaining the most among the benchmark’s sub-indexes, despite a fall in oil prices after Saudi Arabia and Russia postponed their meeting to Thursday.
“The market seems to think that it is not in Russia’s, Saudi or U.S. interest to have low oil prices ... the thought is that they will all lower production to keep a higher price,” Brad Smoling, managing director at Smoling Stockbroking said.
“The energy sector is smoking the hopeium that they will reach a deal.”
Industry heavyweight Santos closed 8.5% higher, while Woodside petroleum gained 6.4%.
The healthcare sub-index settled up 4.9%, helped by CSL that climbed 5.2% to close at its highest since Feb. 25, while Cochlear finished 5.1% up.
Financial stocks ended nearly 5% higher, with all the “Big Four” banks in the positive territory.
Australia’s largest lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia advanced 3.9% at session end, while peer Westpac Banking Corp gained 5.4%.
Mining stocks rose 4.3%, with the world’s biggest miner BHP Group finishing 4.8% higher at a one-month peak, while Rio Tinto climbed 1.6%.
Meanwhile, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index dropped 1.7% to finish the session at 9,763.82.
Kathmandu Holdings tumbled 9.1% to close at its lowest since March 30, while movie software maker Vista Group fell 9%. (Reporting by Nikhil Subba in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)