May 21, 2020 / 1:18 AM / 12 days ago

Australian shares hit 2-month peak as investors eye economic recovery

* Energy stocks hit highest in more than two months

* Tech stocks ride U.S. rally to near three-month high

* Afterpay hits all-time high with 1 mln new customers

* NZ reopens bars and pubs

By Arpit Nayak

May 21 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose to their highest in more than two months on Thursday, tracking an overnight tech-led rally on Wall Street, as investors bet on renewed hopes of a swift economic recovery from the coronavirus-driven recession.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was up 0.3% at 5,591.9, as of 0055 GMT. Earlier in the session, the benchmark hit its highest since March 12.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq index closed at its highest in three months, as giants Facebook Inc and Inc surged to all-time highs.

The gains came as U.S Federal Reserve policymakers reiterated their pledge to keep interest rates near zero until they were sure the U.S. economy was on the road to recovery.

As countries across the globe emerge from the virus-induced lockdown, Australia on Wednesday announced a raft of plans to restart public life and reinvigorate its economy.

New Zealand also loosened the curbs to reopen bars and pubs for the first time in months.

In Australia, solid gains for Woodside Petroleum and Santos sent the energy sector up as much as 3% to its highest in more than two months as oil prices trended upwards on data showing a drop in U.S. crude inventory.

Australian tech stocks tracked global peers to climb to their highest in almost three months.

Buy-now-pay-later firm Afterpay hit a record high after reporting more than 1 million new customers between March 1 and May 15.

Iron ore giant Rio Tinto was the biggest boost to the heavyweight mining sub-index as iron ore prices continued their strong run on demand recovery in China.

Among financials,, the “Big Four” banks traded in a tight range, while gains in the sub-index were supported by Macquarie Group and Insurance Australia Group.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.4% to 10,828.78.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern asked businesses to consider a four-day working week to encourage travel around the country in a bid to aid its ailing tourism industry.

The world’s top dairy exporter Fonterra rose 2.8% after slashing the price it pays farmers for milk for the upcoming season amid weaker demand due to virus-related curbs.

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

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