* Benchmark index hits highest since Sept. 8
* Chalice Mining top gainer on ASX200
* Energy & financial stocks top boost to market
Dec 29 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose for a fifth
straight session on Wednesday, as investors kept aside Omicron
worries amid a surge in COVID-19 infections in the country's
most populous state.
The S&P/ASX 200 index ended up 1.2% at 7,420.3
points, to close at its highest level since Sept. 8 following a
two-day Christmas break. The benchmark gained 0.4% on Friday in
a shortened trading session.
Market participants seemed to shrug off that daily cases in
New South Wales, the worst-hit state from the Omicron variant,
nearly doubled to 11,201 as they banked on the country's high
vaccination rate to keep economic recovery on track.
"Investors seem to be returning to risk assets like
dollar-denominated crude as the worst fears of the impact of
Omicron variant have already subsided," said Kunal Sawhney,
chief executive officer of Kalkine Group.
The energy sector rose 1.2% to be among the top
gainers, with Beach Energy Ltd and Viva Energy Group
Ltd, firming 4.1% and 2.2%, respectively.
The heavyweight financial sector added 1.3%, as the
country's top four banks gained between 1.3% and 1.5%.
Miners closed the session nearly 1% higher after
copper prices hit a one-month peak even as blue-chip stocks Rio
Tinto and BHP Group underperformed.
Gold stocks added 1.2% as the bullion inched higher
with U.S. Treasury yields slipping.
Chalice Mining Ltd, up 7.8%, was the top percentage
gainer on the benchmark after the platinum explorer said it was
closer to begin drilling at its Julimar project in Western
The main index was set to reverse losses from
pandemic-battered 2020, having added nearly 13% so far this
New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index edged 0.4%
higher to 12,940.4 points. Financial services provider Heartland
Group Holdings Ltd and pharmaceutical company EBOS
Group Ltd were the top gainers, up 4.7% and 3.5%,
(Reporting by Dhriti Garg in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak