March 25, 2020 / 1:28 AM / 9 days ago

Australia, NZ shares climb on hopes of massive U.S. stimulus

* ASX benchmark sees best session since 2008 in early trade

* Miners and financial stocks support benchmark

* Australia’s flagship carrier Qantas surges up to 31.3%

By Pranav A K

March 25 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose sharply on Wednesday, tracking Wall Street gains on hopes U.S. lawmakers were moving closer to passing a massive stimulus package to curb the coronavirus outbreak’s economic impact.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index jumped 6.1% in early trade, its biggest percentage gain since 2008, but eased to trade 3.8% higher by midday. The benchmark climbed 4.2% on Tuesday.

All three major U.S. stock averages soared over 8% on Tuesday as Washington appeared closer to passing a $2 trillion economic rescue package, providing a shot of optimism to markets.

“We have seen enormous stimulus unleashed globally and while it cannot stop the economic slump, it does provide a safety net going forward,” ANZ said in a note.

Mining stocks jumped as much as 8.9% to their highest level in more than two-weeks, boosted by gold stocks. Alacer Gold Corp rose 15.9% while Resolute Mining soared 17.3%.

Meanwhile, BHP Group and rival Rio Tinto gained more than 7% each.

The “Big Four” banks firmed over 5%, with Australia and New Zealand Banking Group and National Australia Bank rising 8% and 6.5%, respectively.

Qantas Airways was among the best performers on the benchmark, marking its biggest intraday gain ever, after securing extra funds to support it amid global travel curbs due to the worsening virus.

The coronavirus has taken a mounting toll on livelihoods. Virgin Australia said 8,000 of its employees will be put on leave, while casino operator Star Entertainment Group said it will be standing down 90% of its 9,000 staff.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index climbed 3.6%, or 329.3 points, to 9,438.4.

SKY Network Television Ltd leaped 34.2%, while Oceania Healthcare advanced 27.6%.

New Zealand posted a monthly trade surplus of NZ$594.00 million ($345.53 million) in February, while the central bank proposed to buy NZ$250 million in government bonds as part of its quantitative easing programme. ($1 = 1.7191 New Zealand dollars) (Reporting by A K Pranav in Bengaluru; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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