(Updates to close)
SYDNEY, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose the most in 5-1/2 months on Thursday after the U.S. Federal Reserve put the market out of its misery -- announcing the start of stimulus tapering and pledging to continue ultra-low interest rates.
Big banks and miners helped drive the rally, with top miner BHP Billiton Ltd jumping 2.8 percent and the Commonwealth Bank, Australia’s biggest, gaining 1.6 percent.
The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 2.1 percent, or 106.1 points, to 5,202.2 -- its biggest daily gain since July 2.
The closing level was a two-week high, after the market had taken a beating in recent weeks, falling about 7 percent from a 5-1/2-year high of 5,457.3 hit on Oct. 28, as profit forecast downgrades and fears over early Fed tapering hit investor sentiment.
New Zealand’s benchmark NZX 50 index rose 0.7 percent to 4,707.1.
Reporting by Maggie Lu Yueyang; Editing by Eric Meijer