* Healthcare stocks end at record peak
* ‘Big Four’ banks drive financials higher
* Energy stocks cap benchmark gains (Updates to close)
By Nikhil Subba
Dec 2 (Reuters) - Healthcare and financial stocks helped Australian shares end firmer on Monday, as investors cheered upbeat domestic home prices data and Chinese economic surveys, which indicated improving economic fundamentals at world’s leading nations.
The S&P/ASX 200 index advanced 0.2% to 6,862.3 points, at the close of trade. The benchmark ended 0.3% lower on Friday.
Domestically, Australian data showed cuts in interest rates were working to reignite house prices, which enjoyed their biggest monthly rise in 16 years in November. Prices were up 0.1% on a year-ago period, the first positive reading since April of last year.
“Recent developments have certainty been more positive, with business and consumer confidence lifting, the housing market picking up ... and global financial market sentiment has lifted,” analysts at ANZ Research said in a note.
The gains owed much to surveys of China’s factory activity, which beat forecasts with one showing the quickest pace of expansion in almost three years in November.
The health of the world’s second-largest economy is closely watched, with China being Australia’s largest trading partner and an engine of economic growth.
“The November manufacturing PMI surprised on the upside. This confirmed our view that China’s economy has bottomed out in the near-term thanks to improving trade talks and China’s counter cyclical measures,” OCBC analysts said in a note.
Financial stocks, the heaviest component of the Australian benchmark, ended the session 0.4% higher, buoyed by the “Big Four” banks, which all finished firmer.
Drugmaker CSL and hearing aid maker Cochlear each closed about 1% higher, helping the healthcare sub-index end at a record high.
Miners benefited from a rise in iron ore and base metal prices, with Fortescue Metals Group ending about 3% higher and BHP Group closing 0.2% stronger.
The energy space was the main drag in the benchmark, with major oil and gas players Santos slipping 0.6% and Oil Search shedding about 2% at close.
New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index edged 0.1% lower or 14.6 points to finish the session at 11,301.00.
Software developer Gentrack Group tumbled 6.3% to close at its lowest in nearly three years, while Sky Network Television finished 2.4% lower. (Reporting by Nikhil Subba in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)