* Macquarie Group slips the most in more than 3 months
* Gold stocks rally over 3% to hit their highest in over 3 weeks
* Buy-now-pay-later firms extend losses (Updates to close)
Sept 14 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed higher on Monday, boosted by mining stocks, after the country’s COVID-19 hotspot state of Victoria reported its lowest single-day rise in new infections in nearly three months.
The S&P/ASX 200 index ended 0.7% higher at 5,899.5.
Victoria recorded 35 new COVID-19 cases, with residents in its capital Melbourne now allowed outside for exercise for two hours, double the limit under the original lockdown measures.
“Easing (of) restrictions is a positive,” said Damian Rooney, director of equity sales at Argonaut.
Among shares and sectors, Rio Tinto led the gains with its near 4% rise, while Fortescue Metals Group and BHP Group added 2.1% and 1.9%, respectively.
Analysts said the top management changes at Rio announced on Friday should help the company move forward after the destruction of two significant Aboriginal rockshelters.
A near 5% drop in financial giant Macquarie Group capped broader gains after warning that its first-half profit will fall by around 35%.
The gold index marked its biggest intraday percentage jump in more than three weeks, ending 3.3% higher, as bullion prices rose due to a weak dollar.
“It’s a fairly broad brush here with gold continuing to garner a fair amount of love”, Argonaut’s Rooney said.
Shares of buy now, pay later firms were the outliers and continued their slump as investors look to reprice these stocks, with Afterpay falling as much as 5%.
Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index ticked up 0.4% to finish at 11,790.54.
The market found support from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s announcement that the coronavirus restrictions will lift on Sept. 21, except in its biggest city, Auckland, which is the epicentre of a second wave of infections. (Reporting by Deepali Saxena; editing by Uttaresh.V)
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