May 11, 2020 / 2:05 AM / 20 days ago

Australia shares gain as country's biggest state to ease lockdown; NZ up

* ASX benchmark hits highest level since May 1

* Energy stocks at highest since April 30

* New South Wales, the worst affected state, to reopen this week

By Nikhil Subba

May 11 (Reuters) - Australian shares climbed on Monday, as the government plans to start phased easing of coronavirus-induced restrictions in New South Wales (NSW) - the country’s most populous state.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose as much as 1.2% to its highest since May 1, after posting a weekly gain of 2.8% on Friday.

NSW, the worst coronavirus-affected state in Australia, will allow restaurants, playgrounds and outdoor pools to reopen on May 15 as extensive testing has shown that the spread of the coronavirus has slowed sharply.

NSW and Victoria, which has had the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the country, have maintained their tight restrictions longer than other states.

Sentiment was further bolstered by easing measures in England and Spain.

Wall Street indexes jumped on Friday after the Labor Department reported that the U.S. economy lost 20.5 million jobs in April, which was less than the 22 million forecast by a Reuters poll.

The Australian energy index rose as much as 2.6% to its highest since April 30, led by Washington H Soul Pattinson and Co Ltd, up 2.93%, followed by Worley Ltd, gaining 2.8​%.

Financial stocks gained as much as 1.6%, led by Suncorp Group Ltd and Pendal Group Ltd that climbed as much as 6.1% and 9.2%, respectively.

ASX 300 metals and mining index rose up to 1.4%, led by Syrah Resources Ltd, up 13.2%, followed by Imdex Ltd , gaining 10.6%.

The number of issues on the ASX that advanced were 873, while 376 declined as a 2.3-to-1 ratio favored advancers. There were 121 new highs and 103 new lows.

The most heavily traded shares by volume were Southern Cross Media Group Ltd and Scentre Group.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index inched up as much as 0.17% to 10,764.05.

The top percentage gainers on the benchmark were SKY Network Television Ltd, up 21.9%, followed by Kathmandu Holdings Ltd that climbed 10.9%.

Reporting by Nikhil Subba in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips

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