Australian shares track Asian peers higher on likely Brexit trade deal

Dec 24 (Reuters) - Australian shares climbed on Thursday, boosted by gains in the energy sector, as global sentiment was lifted by a potential Brexit deal that would avoid Britain crashing out of the European Union (EU) without a trade pact.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.5% to 6,676.50 by 0021 GMT.

Australian markets tracked Asian peers higher as Britain and the EU were close to clinching a long-elusive trade agreement, raising hopes that they were now set to avoid a turbulent economic rupture on New Year’s Day.

Back home, the Australian energy index rose as much as 2.3% on higher oil prices. The index was set for its best session since Nov. 25.

Oil prices rose following draws in U.S. inventories of crude, gasoline and distillates which stoked hopes of a return in fuel demand.

Financial stocks gained more than 1% and were set for their best day in just over a week. All of the “Big Four” banks were trading between 0.6% and 0.7% higher.

Westpac Banking Corp said the country’s corporate regulator will not take any action against it, after a probe into allegations that the lender enabled millions of illegal payments to people exploiting children.

The mining sub-index rose as much as 1.4%. Mining giant BHP Group climbed 2.3% while peer Rio Tinto added more than 1%.

BHP said it had met licensing requirements to restart operations and had begun iron ore pellet production at its Samarco joint venture with Brazil’s Vale SA.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.4% to 13,068.33.

Napier Port climbed over 4% to a near two-week high, while Arvida Group rose to a high of over three weeks.

Reporting by Nikhil Subba in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V