* Gold stocks set for best session in two weeks
* Westpac Banking Corp biggest percentage laggard on the local benchmark
* New Zealand benchmark at its highest in nearly six months
Aug 18 (Reuters) - Australian shares gained on Tuesday after the country’s second most populous state reported its lowest daily rise in new COVID-19 infections in a month.
The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.4% to 6,096.8 points by 0042 GMT, from a 0.8% drop in the last session.
Victoria recorded 17 coronavirus deaths in the last 24 hours, down from 25 a day earlier, stoking hopes that a second wave of infection in the state is easing.
Further boosting the morale, Australia’s biggest biotech company CSL, said it was in talks with AstraZeneca to determine if the potential COVID-19 vaccine being developed by the British drugmaker could be manufactured locally.
Leading the rally, gold stocks jumped over 3%, extending gains into the fourth session as the yellow metal touched its highest in nearly a week.
Evolution Mining climbed to its highest since July 23 as the gold miner resumed operations at its Red Lake Gold Mine in Canada which were temporarily suspended on Aug. 12 following a nearby forest fire.
The tech sub-index added 1.6%, taking leads from an overnight strong rally on Wall Street.
Shares of sub-index heavyweights, Afterpay and Xero surged over 2.5% each.
Mining stocks gained 1.5% as the Dalian benchmark contract extended gains into a third session on upbeat demand prospects in top steel producer China.
BHP Group eked out gains of nearly 0.1% even as the world’s largest listed miner reported a lower-than-expected annual profit and also warned of a slowing economic growth outside China.
Among the losers, Financials dropped 1.3% to mark their worst session in more than a week.
The country’s second biggest lender, Westpac Banking Corp fell 3.7% as it scrapped interim dividend citing ongoing uncertainty caused by the coronavirus crisis.
Supported by healthcare and real-estate stocks, the New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index, advanced 1.4% to its highest since Feb. 24.
Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corp climbed 6% to a record high, while Argosy Property jumped over 4%. (Reporting by Deepali Saxena; Editing by Shailesh Kuber)
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