July 9 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose on Thursday as a rally on Wall Street overnight helped soothe fears over the spike in coronavirus cases after Melbourne returned to a lockdown, while New Zealand stocks plunged on Rio Tinto’s move to shut its aluminium smelter operation.
The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 1% to 5,977.7 points in early trade, bouncing back from previous session’s losses.
Lifting sentiment, U.S stocks rose on Wednesday and the Nasdaq hit a record closing high, supported by technology shares as investors held on to hopes of an economic rebound on the back of a raft of upbeat economic data in past weeks.
However, concerns over the virus remained after Melbourne went back into lockdown, forcing five million Australians to stay home for all but essential business for the next six weeks.
The renewed lockdown follows the closure of Australia’s busiest state border, between Victoria and the most populous state New South Wales, on Tuesday night.
The gold sub-index rose 2.8%, as bullion soared past the technical $1,800 threshold, scaling its highest since September 2011.
St Barbara Ltd and OceanaGold Corp climbed over 3% each.
Technology stocks rose 1.8% led by Afterpay Ltd , which jumped over 5.6% after Morgan Stanley became the latest brokerage to more than double the price target on the stock.
ASX 200 Energy index rose about 1.7% and was on track to snap four consecutive session of losses.
Industrial engineering firm Worley Ltd gained nearly 3% after increasing stake in Sydney-based TW Power Services to 100%.
In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell as much as 1.9% in its worst intraday session in nearly a month.
Electricity firms led declines on the index, after mining giant Rio Tinto announced closure of its aluminium smelter operation in the country, putting over a thousands jobs on the line.
The top percentage losers on the were Contact Energy Ltd, followed by Meridian Energy Ltd. (Reporting by Shruti Sonal in Bengaluru; Editing by Shailesh Kuber)