May 19, 2020 / 1:51 AM / 11 days ago

Australian shares hit 2-month high as investors bet on vaccine hopes

* ASX hits more than two-month high

* Energy stocks up on oil rally

* Miners gain as China iron ore inventory drops to 3-year low

* NZ benchmark hits near 10-week peak

By Arpit Nayak

May 19 (Reuters) - Australian shares on Tuesday advanced to their highest in more than two months, tracking overnight gains in Wall Street, as an early-stage data for a potential COVID-19 vaccine lifted hopes of a faster economic recovery from the pandemic fallout.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was up 1.9% at 5,565.9, as of 0105 GMT, touching its highest since March 12.

Wall Street posted overnight gains following encouraging news about drugmaker Moderna Inc’s trial, while the S&P 500 finished at a 10-week high.

News of favourable results about a potential vaccine, coupled with the easing of lockdown measures across the globe, supported a rise in oil prices and helped energy stocks gain up to 5.7%.

Top natural gas producer Woodside Petroleum gained 5.4%, while Santos climbed 8.2%.

Financials also gained 3.3%, led by Westpac Banking Corp and National Australia Bank.

Australian shares of James Hardie Industries surged 14.4% after the cement products maker reported a 17% jump in full-year adjusted net operating profit.

Mining giants BHP Group and Rio Tinto led gains on the mining sub-index, helped by a surge in iron ore futures as port inventory of the steelmaking raw material in China, the world’s top steel producer, dropped to the lowest in more than three years.

However, the spurt in appetite for risk assets saw gold stocks drop 3.5% amid weaker bullion prices.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was up 0.8% at 10,839.97, touching its highest in near 10 weeks.

Domestic shares of Westpac Banking Corp and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group rose 4.1% and 3.5%, respectively.

Media firm NZME Ltd fell 6.1% after dropping its bid to buy major competitor Stuff. (Reporting by Arpit Nayak in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)

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