Australia shares snap 3-day losing streak as NSW eases curbs for Christmas


Dec 23 (Reuters) - Australian shares snapped a three-session losing streak to close higher on Wednesday, after the country's most populous state eased some COVID-19 restrictions for Christmas as new case numbers stayed low.

New South Wales, the site of a new virus outbreak in Australia, relaxed virus curbs ahead of Christmas after reporting eight locally acquired cases, unchanged from Tuesday. read more

The S&P/ASX 200 index (.AXJO) ended 0.7% higher at 6,643.1, with all major indexes apart from miners and gold stocks trading in the black.

However, strict restrictions in the most-affected northern seaside suburbs of Sydney will remain and the full lockdown for the entire region is slated to resume on Dec. 27.

"While the new outbreak appears to be contained, the inconsistent reactions between states creates a great deal of uncertainty," said Brad Smoling, managing director at Smoling Stockbroking.

"Should the outbreak bloom over the holiday period, the rules could change while we're away."

Energy stocks (.AXEJ) led gains on the benchmark, settling 1.3% higher. Woodside Petroleum (WPL.AX) and Origin Energy (ORG.AX) rose 0.9% and 1.7%, respectively.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA.AX) and Macquarie Group (MQG.AX) were the biggest boosts to the heavyweight financial index (.AXFJ), which rose 0.7%.

Consumer, travel and real estate stocks also saw hefty gains as easing virus curbs lifted broader sentiment.

On the flip side, miners (.AXMM) fell 0.7% as iron ore futures dropped over 4% after the Chinese market regulator stepped up trading curbs to curtail speculative buying that had pushed the steelmaking metal's prices to record peaks. IRONORE/

BHP Group (BHP.AX) finished 1% lower, while Rio Tinto (RIO.AX) shed 0.5%.

Across the Tasman Sea New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index (.NZ50) gained 1.4% to finish the session at a record high of 13,020.21, supported by gains in utilities and financials.

Reporting by Arpit Nayak in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V

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