Gold, energy stocks lift Australia shares higher as commodity prices firm

* St Barbara plunges 9%, top pct loser on benchmark

* Gold index hits highest close in over 4 months

* Energy stocks up for fourth straight session (Updates to close)

May 18 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed higher for a third straight session on Tuesday, led by gains in heavyweight mining and energy sector stocks as commodity prices strengthened.

The S&P/ASX 200 index ended 0.6% higher at 7,066, after ending up 0.1% in the previous session.

Software firm Nuix Ltd rebounded from Monday’s lows and rose 11.5% and was the top percentage gainer on the benchmark, after its chairman pledged improvements following a local media report raising questions about its governance and accounting.

Gold and oil are “clearly the favoured destination for the fast money herd overnight,” Jeffrey Halley, a senior market analyst at OANDA, said in a note.

Gold stocks rose 2%, hitting a more than four-month high as bullion prices soared on rising inflationary pressures and dollar weakness, with country’s biggest gold miner Newcrest Mining gaining 1.1%, after touching a 6-month high earlier in the day.

This helped in offsetting a nearly 9% plunge in gold miner St Barbara after it cut its full-year production targets.

Energy stocks rose for a fourth straight session and closed up 1.6%, tracking an uptick in oil prices on hopes of a solid recovery in fuel demand following the reopenings of the U.S. and European economies.

Heavyweights Woodside Petroleum and Santos rose 2.1% and 1.6%, respectively.

Financials jumped 0.8% while tech stocks climbed 0.4%.

Miners gained 2.1%, as iron ore prices jumped on robust demand. The mining trio Rio Tinto, BHP Group and Fortescue Metals gained between 1.9% and 2.1%.

Across the Tasman sea, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.1% to finish the session at 12,428.62. (Reporting by Savyata Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Rashmi Aich)