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Banks, miners help Australian shares notch 13-month closing high

* ASX 200 posts longest winning streak since last December

* BHP, Rio rise more than 2% each on high iron ore prices

* Big Four banks rise more than 1% each (Updates to close)

April 8 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose on Thursday to hit their highest close in more than 13 months, supported by big banks and miners, while Greenland Minerals plunged before going into a trading halt.

The S&P/ASX 200 index settled 1% higher at 6,998.80 after briefly rising above the 7,000 mark for the first time since the COVID-19 sell-off in early last year. It also marked its fifth straight sessions of gains - its longest winning streak since last December.

Expectations that ultra-loose global monetary policies will remain unchanged for some time were boosted by minutes of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s March meeting showing officials were still wary of ongoing risks from the pandemic.

The Reserve Bank of Australia left rates unchanged at record lows on Tuesday, reaffirming continued monetary support to lower unemployment and boost inflation.

Leading gains on the benchmark index, mining giants BHP Group and Rio Tinto rose 2.6% and 2.2%, respectively, on high iron ore prices, while the country’s “Big Four” banks climbed more than 1% each.

Greenland Minerals plunged 50% before trading was halted. The drop follows a parliamentary victory for a left-wing party in Greenland that has opposed the minerals explorer’s large rare earth mining project.

Afterpay extended its longest run of gains this year, closing 1.3% higher on renewed appetite for growth stocks.

Morgan Stanley, traditionally bullish on Afterpay, lowered its price target by A$10, citing risks to merchants fees from the entry of Commonwealth Bank of Australia into the buy-now- pay-later market.

On Thursday, Australia’s insurance regulator proposed to limit the exposure of life insurers to offshore reinsurers, given its lack of oversight of foreign players.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index climbed 1.2% to 12,632.6, marking its best finish since mid-March. Among gainers, dairy firm a2 Milk Co jumped 3.9%. (Reporting by Aditya Munjuluru and Nikhil Kurian Nainan in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)

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