* Benchmark rises almost 2%
* Tech stocks gain after 4 days
* Mercury NZ top gainer on NZ index
March 8 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose sharply on Monday
and were set for their best day in two months after the U.S.
Senate passed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan, while last
week's upbeat U.S. jobs data also supported sentiment.
The S&P/ASX 200 index advanced as much as 1.8% to
6,830.7 by 2240 GMT. The benchmark ended 0.7% lower on Friday.
The U.S. Senate on Saturday passed President Joe Biden's
COVID-19 relief plan, one of the largest stimulus bills in U.S.
history, a day after data showed that the U.S. economy created
more jobs than expected in February.
Over the weekend, Australia also started vaccinating its
citizens against the coronavirus with AstraZeneca's
vaccine. Inoculation with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine had
started in February.
Among individual sectors, mining stocks gained as
much as 2.8%, with BHP and Rio Tinto firming
3.4% and 3%, respectively.
Technology stocks rose as much as 2.7%, snapping
four straight sessions of losses. Buy now, pay later firm
Afterpay advanced up to 4.6%, while Appen
gained as much as 3.8%.
Financial stocks rose 1.5% to hit an over one-week
high. The "Big Four" banks rose between 1.2% and 1.9%.
Top performers in the financial sector were Janus Henderson
Group and IOOF Holdings, gaining 4.7% and
Energy stocks rose nearly 2% to a 10-week high,
tracking a jump in oil prices. Oil Search advanced
4.3%, while Beach Energy firmed 3.8%.
In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was
1.3% higher at 12,334.3.
The top percentage gainers on the index were Mercury NZ
and Synlait Milk, up 3.7% and 2.9%,
(Reporting by Aditya Munjuluru; Editing by Aditya Soni)