Australian shares close higher on gold stocks, comments

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July 27 (Reuters) - Australian shares settled higher on Monday, helped by a record rally in gold stocks and reassurances of further support from a senior central bank official to ease the economic pain caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.34% to 6,044.2, with gold stocks adding more than 4% to hit a record peak as an escalating diplomatic row between the United States and China hammered the U.S. dollar and sent the safe-haven gold to record highs.

Helping investor sentiment further, Reserve Bank of Australia Assistant Governor Chris Kent said the central bank was ready to buy government bonds if market conditions deteriorated significantly.

However, broader gains were capped on concerns over surging coronavirus cases. The country recorded its highest ever daily tally of deaths from the coronavirus on Sunday as authorities struggled to contain more than 100 clusters in Victoria state.

“It’s one of those situations where there’s a couple of balls up in the air... the market is still trying to figure out what lies ahead,” said James Tao, market analyst at CommSec.

“The COVID situation is probably the main focus at the moment, with the Sino-U.S. tensions somewhere in the background”.

Among gainers, Newcrest Mining, the country’s largest listed independent gold miner, soared 5% to a near 10-month peak, while Emerald Resources jumped 9.5%.

The mining index climbed 1.8%, with BHP Group gaining 0.9%.

Tech stocks also rose, with REA Group adding nearly 3% and NEXTDC advancing 2.2%.

Energy stocks slipped as oil prices fell, with Woodside Petroleum and Santos shedding 0.8% and 1%, respectively.

Lynas Corp was the top gainer on the benchmark after the company signed a contract with the U.S. Department of Defense to begin initial design work for its Pentagon-funded heavy rare earth separation facility in Texas.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.4%, dragged by financials.

New Zealand-listed shares of Westpac Banking Corp ended 1.2% lower. (Reporting by Soumyajit Saha in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)