April 10, 2017 / 7:15 AM / 8 months ago

Australian shares close near two-yr high, oil stocks support

(Updates to close)

April 10 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed near a two-year high on Monday, as energy and material stocks found support from higher global oil prices.

The S&P/ASX 200 index ended the session 0.9 percent, or 50.43 points, higher at 5,912.9.

The market edged higher on the back of oil producers and energy-related companies, with the benchmark energy index rising to its highest in 19 months.

Oil majors Woodside Petroleum Ltd closed 0.7 percent higher, while Oil Search Ltd gained 0.9 percent.

Shares of BHP Billiton Ltd, which has significant exposure to the oil sector, closed 4.6 percent higher.

The sector found support from global oil prices, which rose on Monday because of strong demand and uncertainty over the conflict in Syria, following the U.S. missile attack on a Syrian airbase last week.

Although Syria is not a major oil producer, any escalation of the conflict feeds fears about oil supplies due to the country’s location and alliances with big oil producers in the region.

Financials, the biggest index constituent, finished up 0.8 percent, with the ‘Big Four’ banks ending in positive territory ahead of earnings season.

“People now would be a bit wary of selling the banks too much, as we are anticipating that there will be some pretty good results,” said Ric Spooner, chief market strategist at CMC markets.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index finished the session flat at 7,238.86 points. Utility stocks were a drag on the index, capping gains in financial and consumer staples.

Shares of power generation company Meridian Energy Ltd closed 1.9 percent lower, while honey producer Comvita Ltd ended up 2.3 percent.

Reporting by Anusha Ravindranath in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Ambar Warrick; Editing by Randy Fabi

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