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Financials

Australia shares at near 9-month peak as vaccine news spurs recovery hopes

* Victoria reports zero cases for first time in 8 months

* Financials scale 8-1/2-month peak

* Gold stocks hit 6-month low as bullion slides

Nov 24 (Reuters) - Australian shares on Tuesday touched their highest level in almost nine months, with energy stocks leading the pack, as positive developments surrounding a potential COVID-19 vaccine fanned optimism about a speedy global economic revival.

AstraZeneca said on Monday its COVID-19 vaccine could be up to 90% effective, and cheaper and easier to distribute than rivals, sparking hopes that the fight against the pandemic and its crippling economic fallout may soon be at an end.

Risk appetite was also supported by data that showed U.S. business activity expanded at the fastest rate in more than five years in November.

Back home, Australia’s Victoria state, the hotbed of the country’s second virus wave, reported zero active cases of coronavirus for the first time in more than eight months, putting it on track to effectively eliminate the virus.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 1.1% to 6,631.6 by 0003 GMT, the highest since Feb. 28.

Energy stocks hit their highest in more than five months as oil prices climbed on vaccine optimism. Woodside Petroleum added 3.5% and Santos tacked on 3.7% to lead gains in the sub-index.

Heavyweight financials rose to an 8-1/2-month peak, with top lenders Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group leading the charge.

The gold sub-index shed 5.8% to hit its lowest in more than six months and was the only major sub-index in the red, after the bullion tumbled to its weakest in four months on better-than-expected U.S. business activity data.

Newcrest Mining and Northern Star Resources were the biggest losers, giving up 4.6% and 5.8%, respectively.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index gained 0.5% to reach 12,559.21, on course for a second straight session of gains.

Local shares of Westpac Banking Corp and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group jumped 2.7% and 2.5%, respectively.

Reporting by Arpit Nayak in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips

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