* Aussie benchmark closes at highest since March 7
* Rio Tinto cuts 2019 outlook for iron ore shipments
* Mining stocks rise for fifth straight session (Updates to close)
April 1 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed at a more than three-week high on Monday, after brisk Chinese factory surveys boosted broader investor sentiment, with miners notching strong gains on firm iron ore prices.
The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.59 percent, or 36.3 points, to 6,217.0 at the close of trade. The benchmark was little changed on Friday.
Sentiment rose after official data on Sunday showed that factory activity in China, Australia’s largest trading partner, unexpectedly grew for the first time in four months in March, soothing fears of an economic downturn. On Monday, the private-sector Caixin survey showed a similar trend.
Wall Street’s positive performance on Friday also lent support, after Beijing said it would continue to suspend additional tariffs on U.S. vehicles and auto parts after April 1 in a goodwill gesture.
“Positive news and trading on Friday night along with the release of stronger-than-expected data from China is helping the local sentiment. The manufacturing outlook in China has lifted commodity prices,” said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.
Miners rose for a fifth straight session, with behemoth BHP Group up 1.6 percent and rival Rio Tinto Ltd gaining 1.8 percent.
Iron ore prices extended gains, boosted by China’s factory surveys and supply concerns after Rio Tinto cut its 2019 output for iron ore shipments from Pilbara region, due to damage caused by tropical cyclone Veronica.
Fortescue Metals Group Ltd continued to rise, ending 4.4 percent higher after a stellar performance in March where its stock gained 17.3 percent.
Rare earth miner Lynas Corp was among top gainers in the sub-index, inching closer to the A$2.25 per share offer from Wesfarmers Ltd, after the conglomerate’s CEO said on Friday the company was still keen on the takeover.
Financial stocks also rose, with all “Big Four” banks rising. Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac Banking Corp both rose 0.9 percent.
Meanwhile, gold stocks dipped as demand for the safe-haven metal fell. The country’s top gold miner Newcrest Mining shed 1.2 percent.
Recovering from early losses, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P NZX 50 index rose 0.09 percent or 8.96 points to finish the session at 9,853.91.
Air New Zealand Ltd rose 1.8 percent while Fonterra Shareholders’ Fund firmed 1.4 percent. (Reporting by Rashmi Ashok in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Aby Jose Koilparambil; Editing by Sam Holmes)