Australian shares rise on US stimulus hopes, post fifth straight weekly gain

Australian shares ended at a more than one-week high on Friday, driven by gains in financial and energy stocks on rising hopes for a U.S. coronavirus aid package, while also posting a fifth straight weekly jump.

Conservative lawmakers in the U.S. Congress expressed their support for a bipartisan, $908 billion economic package for the pandemic, while Senate and House of Representatives leaders huddled.

Rising for a fourth straight session, the S&P/ASX 200 index was up 0.3% to 6,634.1 at the close of trade, its highest since Nov. 26. For the week, the benchmark index gained 0.5%.

The main thing to be looking forward to over the weekend is going to be any development on the proposed U.S. stimulus, said Brad Smoling, managing director at Smoling Stockbroking.

He said that ahead of the holiday season, “there are many businesses that are hanging on barely that would take some solace and relief from the stimulus proposal.”

Australian markets had a strong week as investors cheered robust economic data showing a rebound in the economy, a significant lift in housing loans and remarkably strong retail spending figures.

Heavyweight financials jumped 0.8% and were the biggest boosts to the index, with the “Big Four” lenders rising between 0.4% and 1.3%.

“Banks look really attractive against this (strong economic data) background and the reality that their dividend yields will be beating the RBA rates for the rest of the decade is a beacon for investors,” said James McGlew, executive director of corporate stockbroking at Argonaut.

Higher crude prices helped the energy index rise 0.7%, with the country’s top independent gas producer Woodside Petroleum climbing as much as 1.2%.

But gold and healthcare indexes dropped 1.4% and 0.4%, respectively, tempering gains on the benchmark.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell for a fourth straight session, closing down 0.1% at 12,631.38.

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