* Travel stocks among best performers on ASX 200
* Energy stocks & major banks led gains
* NZX 50 fell 0.2%
Sept 27 (Reuters) - Australian shares ended higher on
Monday, buoyed by optimism over plans to lift the COVID-19
lockdown in the country's most populous state, while heavyweight
energy and bank stocks also provided momentum.
The S&P/ASX 200 index closed 0.57% higher at 7,384.2
points. The benchmark fell 0.37% on Friday.
Movement restrictions across New South Wales will be lifted
gradually between Oct. 11 and Dec. 1 as vaccination rates push
through 70%, 80% and 90%, authorities said.
"Low coronavirus numbers in our largest state have been
helpful today, and travel stocks are doing well as investors
looked ahead to the reopening of the states," Brad Smoling,
managing director at Smoling Stockbroking said.
Global risk mood has also swung to positive as the fallout
from cash-strapped property developer China Evergrande
seems to be contained for now, Smoling added.
Travel and tourism companies surged on the news of COVID-19
curbs easing, with Qantas Airways soaring up to 4.3% to
hit more than a year's high. Travel agency Flight Centre
climbed 7.48%, while peer Webjet rose 5.21%.
Energy stocks rose 1.81%, tracking oil prices that
rose for a fifth straight day as parts of the world see demand
pick up with the easing of pandemic conditions.
Heavyweights Beach Energy Ltd and Woodside
Petroleum Ltd were the top gainers on the sub-index,
advancing 4.22% and 3.2%, respectively.
Financial stocks rose 1.52%, with a spike in lending
rates last week helping lift major banks, as higher rates lead
to better margins.
Among the 'Big Four' banks, the country's biggest lender
Commonwealth Bank climbed up to 3.2%, marking its best
day since June 22.
New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.2%
to finish the session at 13227.7 points.
(Reporting by Riya Sharma in Bengaluru; Editing by Ramakrishnan