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Australia shares reverse losses as export-reliant healthcare stocks shine

* The Australian dollar weakens 1.5% overnight

* Healthcare sector top gainer on the benchmark, up 1.9%

* CSL Ltd closes at three-week peak (Updates to close)

March 24 (Reuters) - Australian shares reclaimed lost ground to close higher on Wednesday, buoyed by healthcare stocks, as a weaker local currency boosted the export-reliant sector.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was up 0.5% at 6,778.8 points at the close of trade, after falling as much as 0.15% earlier in the session.

The Australian dollar weakened 1.5% overnight, as investors abandoned bets on higher interest rates domestically, while tighter coronavirus lockdowns in Europe pushed bond yields down globally.

“I think the weaker Australian dollar is probably helping our exports and we are seeing a bit of rotation into the safety stocks,” said Damian Rooney, director of equity sales at Perth-based Argonaut.

The safe-haven U.S. dollar strengthened to a four-month high on Wednesday as concerns over a third COVID-19 wave in Europe and potential U.S. tax hikes sapped risk appetite and weakened other currencies.

In Australia, the healthcare sector, which is heavily exposed to the U.S. market, ended 1.9% higher as CSL Ltd rose 1.9% to close at a three-week high, while hearing implant maker Cochlear Ltd added 3.7%.

Technology stocks advanced 0.4%, with buy-now-pay-later company Xero hitting a three-week high after acquiring Swedish e-invoicing firm Tickstar.

Heavyweight financial stocks climbed 0.4%, with Commonwealth Bank of Australia gaining 1.9% to mark its best session in more than three weeks.

Bucking the upward trend, energy stocks finished 0.9% down, with Santos Ltd and Woodside Petroleum falling 1.5% and 1.1%, respectively.

Santos said it expects to make a final investment decision on its Barossa project in the coming weeks after the oil and gas producer postponed the call last year.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index closed 0.3% higher at 12,358.88 points. Electricity retailer Mercury NZ Ltd was the top gainer on the bourse.

Westpac Banking Corp said that it was in the early stages of assessing a possible demerger of its New Zealand business. (Reporting by Harish Sridharan in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)

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