* Benchmark Australia index up for third session
* Healthcare stocks among top gainers, up 6.5%
* NZ’s Auckland Int’l Airport up on cost cutting (Updates to close)
March 26 () – Australian shares settled higher for a third straight session on Thursday, as investor sentiment was lifted by the U.S. Senate passing a massive stimulus package to mitigate the economic blow from the coronavirus epidemic and curb its spread.
The S&P/ASX 200 index climbed 2.3% to 5,113.30, its highest close in a week, after Wednesday’s 5.5% gain.
The Senate passed the $2 trillion bill to help unemployed workers and industries hurt by the epidemic, as well as to provide much-needed funding to buy urgently needed medical equipment. The bill provides, among others, at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.
In Australia, the healthcare sector, which is heavily exposed to the U.S. market, was among the biggest gainers in the index, adding 6.5%.
Also helping the sector was a weaker Australian dollar as these companies earn a significant portion of their revenue overseas.
Biotech company CSL Ltd advanced 6.2%, while Sonic Healthcare jumped nearly 10%.
However, doubts regarding the effectiveness of measures taken to cushion the economic blow remained, with the local market likely focussing more on reaction from China, the country’s largest trading partner.
“The U.S. package will have an impact here but the economy that the Australian market will be focussing on is China and what sort of stimulus they put in place,” said James McGlew, executive director of corporate stockbroking at Argonaut.
“Whilst the stimulus is both welcome and necessary, the uncertainty remains and will dominate the mood of investors.”
Among miners, heavyweights Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals Group climbed nearly 5% and 3%, respectively.
Financials ticked 0.4% higher, with the second-largest bank Westpac Banking Corp and peer National Australia Bank adding 1% and 2.2%, respectively.
Meanwhile, the Reserve Bank of Australia proposed to buy A$3 billion ($1.8 billion) in sovereign government bonds as part of its quantitative easing programme to keep short-term yields around the cash rate of 0.25%.
In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index added nearly 4% to settle at 9,632.47, its highest in two weeks.
A one-month lockdown started to curb the spread of the outbreak as cases neared 300. The finance minister said the epidemic would impact jobs “significantly worse” than the global financial crisis.
Electricity generator Meridian Energy and dairy firm a2 Milk Co tacked on nearly 4% each.
Auckland International Airport jumped 6.4%, after the airport operator said it suspended selected capex projects due to the virus’ impact on the tourism and aviation market. (Reporting by Sameer Manekar in Bengaluru, additional reporting by A K Pranav; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)