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Australian shares see best day in nearly 2 weeks on jobless data, banks boost

* Benchmark posts best session since May 10

* Jobless rate falls to lowest in a year

* Tech stocks post best session in over 6 weeks (Updates to close)

May 20 (Reuters) - Australian stocks closed higher on Thursday, marking their steepest rise in nearly two weeks, due to gains in tech and banking stocks and upbeat employment data.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index ended 1.3% higher at 7,019.6, their best session since May 10. The index had dropped 1.9% on Wednesday.

“It’s a good bounce-back from yesterday (Wednesday) that is being served to some extent by the unemployment number....that’s really helped the banking sector,” said Henry Jennings, senior analyst and portfolio manager at Marcustoday Financial Newsletter.

The country’s jobless rate in April slid for a sixth straight month to the lowest in a year.

Financials rose 1.9%, with the “big four” banks gaining between 1.4% and 3.2%.

Among the top gainers on the benchmark was flag carrier Qantas Airways Ltd, which jumped nearly 4% on unveiling fresh cost-cutting measures to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tech stocks led the gains on the benchmark, adding nearly 4.3% to post their biggest one-day percentage gain in over six weeks. Index giant Afterpay Ltd surged 7.7%.

Gold stocks tracked higher bullion prices, gaining 1.6%. Index heavyweights Newcrest Mining and Northern Star Resources rose 0.9% and 1.5%, respectively.

Miners took a beating as iron ore prices declined, falling 0.5% to hit their lowest close in two weeks.

Mining majors Rio Tinto, BHP Group and Fortescue Metals declined 0.4% to 1.1%.

After spending most of the session in the red on lower oil prices, energy stocks recouped losses in the last hour to end flat.

Whitehaven Coal added 4.1%, while Oil Search shed 1.9%.

In New Zealand, the benchmark NZX 50 index climbed 1.3% to 12,437.17 after the country released its budget, with big spending targeted towards housing, healthcare and infrastructure. (Reporting by Yamini C S in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V)

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