March 29, 2017 / 1:08 AM / 5 months ago

Australia shares soar to near 2-year high; NZ rises

March 29 (Reuters) - Australian shares soared to their highest in almost two years on Wednesday, tracking overnight gains on Wall Street, as U.S. consumer confidence surged to a 16-year peak.

Cyclical sectors led the way after the strong consumer confidence data boosted investor views that the U.S. economy is on its way to stronger growth.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.7 percent, or 40.766 points to 5,862 by 0040 GMT, its highest since May 5, 2015.

The market was driven by "strong trading on consumer confidence last night, which does provide a good base for consumer spending and growth in the U.S. economy over the next few months," said Ric Spooner, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

The market also "saw stabilisation in commodity prices last night" leading to "some recovery in the energy stocks and materials sector".

Materials gained following a rise in copper prices on Tuesday as hopes that U.S. President Donald Trump would shift focus away from his failed healthcare reform bill to economic stimulus lifted stocks and the dollar.

Chinese steel rebar prices also advanced on Tuesday, providing iron ore prices a brief lift after their worst day in months at the previous session.

The mining sector benchmark climbed 0.6 percent, with heavyweights Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals rising more than one percent each.

BHP Billiton edged up 0.7 percent.

Australia's energy index hit its highest in more than a month, driven by gains in oil prices.

Oil added as much as 2 percent on Tuesday after a severe disruption to Libyan oil supplies and as officials suggested OPEC members and other producing countries could extend output cuts to the end of the year.

Woodside Petroleum Ltd and Oil Search Ltd edged up 1.2 percent and 0.7 percent, respectively.

Transport fuel supplier Caltex Australia Ltd touched a five-week high.

The financial index hit a near three-week high, with the "Big Four" banks gaining between 0.9 percent to 1.3 percent.

Gold stocks, on the other hand, slipped 1.2 percent, dragged down by lower gold prices as the U.S. dollar firmed.

Gold miners Newcrest Mining Ltd and Northern Star Resources Ltd lost more than 1 percent each, with Northern Star diving to a two-week low.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.6 percent, or 41.95 points to 7,107.18.

Gains were spread across all sectors.

The biggest gainers on the index were a2 Milk Company Ltd and Fletcher Building, adding 3.51 percent and 2.1 percent respectively.

Reporting by Christina Martin; Additional reporting by Sandhya Sampath; Editing by Eric Meijer

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