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Australia shares hit near 10-month closing high on faster recovery projection

* Benchmark index hits highest close since late February

* Australian economy seen growing 4.5% in 2021 - Treasurer

* Afterpay hits all-time closing high for fourth session

* New Zealand GDP grows 14% in Q3, beats expectations (Updates to close)

Dec 17 (Reuters) - Australian shares jumped on Thursday to their highest close in nearly 10 months, as projection of a faster economic recovery next year, and strong November employment data lifted sentiment.

The S&P/ASX 200 index settled 1.2% higher at 6,756.70, its highest close since Feb. 25, and marking a second straight session of gains.

Australia’s treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, said the economy would grow 4.5% in 2021, up from a previous estimate of 4.25% made just two months before, signalling a quicker recovery from the first recession in three decades.

Supporting the projection, November employment figures beat expectations, pushing the jobless rate lower in a sign that monetary and fiscal stimulus was bringing the country back on its feet after the pandemic blows.

Frydenberg said resource exports were expected to rise 5% in 2021/22 even with rising tensions with China, the country’s largest trading partner.

“With Australia placed to benefit from rising commodity demand in 2021 as the world’s recovery gathers pace and the local economy recovers strongly, Australian equity markets head into the year-end in rude health,” said Jeffrey Halley, a senior market analyst at OANDA.

Heavyweight miners and financials were the top boosts, adding 1.7% and 1%, respectively. All “Big Four” banks ended in positive territory, while mining giants BHP Group and Rio Tinto gained about 1.8% each.

Tech stocks continued their winning streak, closing at a record level. Afterpay was the biggest gainer in the index, marking a record closing level for the fourth session in a row.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index added 0.5% to close at 12,888.77.

The economy grew a record 14% in the third quarter, and 0.4% annually, beating expectations on both counts as industrial and commercial activity rebounded from the pandemic lows. (Reporting by Sameer Manekar in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)

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