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Australian shares end higher as govt signals ease in lending standards

* Benchmark index records its best week in 6

* “Big Four” banks jump; Westpac adds nearly 7%

* Gold stocks snap four day losing streak (Updates to close)

Sept 25(Reuters) - Australian shares ended the week on a positive note, boosted by heavyweight banks, as investors cheered the government’s signals to ease lending standards to free up credit and revive the pandemic-hit economy.

The “Big Four” banks helped the S&P/ASX 200 index close 1.5% higher. The benchmark index recorded its best weekly gain since the week ended Aug. 14.

The changes remove responsible lending laws introduced in the wake of the global financial crisis that, among other things, require banks to check whether information provided by borrowers in their loan applications is correct.

Calling the move a very good sign from banks’ point of view, Henry Jennings, senior analyst and portfolio manager at Marcustoday Financial Newsletter said, “It would enable people to get a loan quicker, speed up the paperwork, free up the credit market and hopefully stimulate some economic activity.”

Jumping nearly 7%, Westpac Banking Corp was the biggest percentage gainer among its peers with others adding between 2.8% and 6.4%.

Aiding sentiment, Fitch Ratings said the A$1.3 billion ($918.19 million) record fine agreed by Westpac to settle a lawsuit by financial crime agency AUSTRAC is manageable for the Australia’s second-largest lender.

Among other gainers, gold stocks rallied more than 2.5% as bullion prices recovered from a two-month low.

Shares of the top listed gold miner Newcrest Mining advanced 2.6% while Northern Star Resources snapped a six-day losing streak.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index gained 0.9% to end the session at 11,797.08.

Local shares of Westpac Banking Corp climbed 7.7%, while Australia and New Zealand Banking Corp marked its best day in more than three months.

$1 = 1.4158 Australian dollars Reporting by Deepali Saxena; editing by Uttaresh.V

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