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Bumper jobs data, U.S. stimulus bets push Australia shares higher

* Energy stocks end at 10-month high, near pre-pandemic levels

* Gold stocks snap five sessions of losses on firmer bullion

* NZ logs third straight session in the red (Updates to close)

Jan 13 (Reuters) - Australian shares settled higher on Wednesday as upbeat data pointed towards improving employment figures on the horizon, with energy stocks leading the charge on an upswing in oil prices.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was up 0.1% at 6,686.6 at the close of trade, with energy stocks being the stand-out performers after leaping 4.3%.

Job vacancies in the country surged 23.4% to hit an all-time high in the November quarter, data showed, signalling the likelihood for stronger employment growth in the offing.

“We’ve seen a bit of a pick-up in the job vacancies numbers, so the economy is starting to come back to some level of normal,” said Steven Daghlian, analyst at CommSec.

“There are a lot of moving parts for a recovery, but one of them is going to be that the vaccine proves effective.”

Some Australian doctors raised concerns over the effectiveness of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine in generating herd immunity, calling for a pause in its rollout.

Expectations of speedy distribution of vaccines have been a major driver in global markets, along with hopes that U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s administration will provide more fiscal support to help spur growth in the world’s largest economy.

Woodside Petroleum jumped 5.5% and Oil Search added 6.2% to lead gains in the energy sub-index , which ended at a 10-month high as oil prices rose more than 1% after data showed a bigger-than-expected drop in inventories.

Miners and gold stocks also raked in hefty gains as Chinese steel futures and safe-haven bullion firmed. BHP Group and Newcrest Mining climbed 0.5% and 3.5%, respectively.

However, a third straight session of losses for healthcare and tech stocks weighed on the benchmark and curbed gains.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index finished 0.5% lower at 13,120.28, with utilities and industrials being the biggest drags. (Reporting by Arpit Nayak in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)

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