March 5, 2020 / 6:33 AM / in a month

Australia shares mark best day in 2 months on Wall Street lead; NZ up

* Local financial index breaks 8-day losing streak

* Healthcare sector rises most in over two weeks

* TPG Telecom hits over 1-year closing high on outlook hike (Updates to close)

March 5 (Reuters) - Australian shares ended over 1% higher on Thursday as investors took heart from a surge on Wall Street, which was spurred by former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s pack-leading performance in the Democratic presidential primaries.

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed 1.1% higher at 6,395.70, their biggest percentage gain since Jan. 7, after all the three major U.S. indexes closed about 4% higher overnight.

Furthering the boost to Wall Street from Biden’s surge, data showed services sector activity in the United States jumped to a one-year high in February. Additionally, the House of Representatives pledged a $8.3 billion spending package to combat the spread of the new coronavirus.

Biden’s show of strength more or less ensures that Bernie Sanders and his socialist principles are out of the picture, and markets are cheering that, Christopher Conway, a senior investment adviser at Marcustoday said.

Biden emerged as the front-runner in the presidential nomination race on Super Tuesday, cheering investors in the U.S. healthcare sector, who are wary of Biden’s rival Bernie Sanders’ push for a Medicare for All healthcare policy that would essentially abolish private insurance.

Tracking strength in U.S. peers, the local healthcare sector added 2.7%, marking its biggest intraday rise since Feb. 19.

Blue-chip firms CSL Ltd and U.S.-based Resmed Inc advanced 3.5% and 4.3%, respectively.

Heavyweight financial stocks were among the biggest boosts to Australia’s benchmark index, rising 0.5% to break an eight-session losing streak.

Financial services firm Macquarie Group, and Insurance Australia Group were the top gainers, ending 3.5% and 3.8% higher, respectively.

However, top lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia finished 0.5% lower, marking its ninth straight session in the red.

The technology sector rose 1.5%, with software maker Xero Ltd advancing 3.1%, and buy-now-pay-later firm Afterpay Ltd adding 3.6%.

Internet services provider TPG Telecom hit an over one-year closing high after it raised its fiscal 2020 core earnings forecast.

Additionally, the country’s competition regulator said it would not appeal a federal court approval for the merger of TPG and a local unit of Britain’s Vodafone Group.

Meanwhile, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said a stimulus package expected within days would target sectors most affected by the epidemic, softening the blow from warnings that the virus outbreak would hurt current quarter economic growth.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index gained about 2% to end at 11,640.890, clocking a three-day winning streak.

Utilities and the healthcare sectors were the top gainers, with electricity generator Meridian Energy adding 2.1%, and Ryman Healthcare rising 5.5%. (Reporting by Sameer Manekar in Bengaluru; additional reporting by Aby Jose Koilparambil; Editing by Devika Syamnath)

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