* Australia healthcare index scales new peak
* Positive home prices data cheer market
* Gold firms drag metal stocks
By Aby Jose Koilparambil
Dec 2 (Reuters) - Australian shares kicked off the month on a positive note on Monday, aided by healthcare and financial stocks, as investors cheered strong domestic home prices data while shrugging off concerns over fresh uncertainty around the Sino-U.S. trade deal.
The S&P/ASX 200 index gained 0.5% to 6,883.30 by 0037 GMT. The benchmark had risen a tad over 2% last week in its biggest weekly gain since early February.
The healthcare sub-index gained as much as 1.2% to a record high, with medical tech firm Avita Medical Ltd rising up to 4% to be the top percentage gainer, while benchmark heavyweight CSL Ltd climbed about 2%.
“One of the most appealing factors about healthcare stocks is that earnings tend to be very predictable for them. Also, one of the major drivers in Australia for healthcare is the ageing demography and the players who are into aged care services stand to benefit a lot,” said James McGlew, executive director of corporate stock broking at Argonaut.
The financials index tacked on up to 0.7%, with all the ‘Big Four’ lenders gaining between 0.2% and about 1%, after home prices data released before market-opening providing the impetus.
Australian home prices rose at a breakneck pace in November as record-low interest rates and looser lending standards fuelled demand in a sector that has gone from bust to boom since mid-year.
It was the fifth straight month of gains and a potential boon for consumer spending power after a two-year downturn chipped away at household wealth and confidence.
“The signals are that the lower interest rates are finally giving some stimulation to the domestic housing markets,” added McGlew.
Meanwhile, investors looked past the new uncertainty around a trade deal between the United States and China.
A Sino-U.S. trade deal was now “stalled because of Hong Kong legislation”, news website Axios reported on Sunday, citing a source close to U.S. President Donald Trump’s negotiating team.
The energy sub-index was the main drag on the benchmark as oil struggled, with the U.S. crude dropping more than 4% on Friday amid fresh trade tensions and record high U.S. crude production.
Worley Ltd fell more than 2%, while Oil Search Ltd declined up to 0.5%.
In the metals and mining space, gold stocks fell the most with Newcrest Mining Ltd dropping over 2% in early session.
The Australian benchmark had scaled record highs last week on prospects of an initial trade deal between Washington and Beijing and strong U.S. data, which assuaged concerns of an economic slowdown.
New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index also rose 0.4% to the day’s highest level of 11,359.94 to scale another fresh peak. The benchmark is set to gain for a sixth consecutive session.
Energy firms Trustpower Ltd and Meridian Energy Ltd were the top percentage gainers on the benchmark, gaining over 3% and about 2%, respectively.
Reporting by Aby Jose Koilparambil in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V