* Victoria reports zero cases for first time in 8 months
* Financials scale 8-1/2-month peak
* Gold stocks hit 6-month low as bullion slides
Nov 24 (Reuters) - Australian shares on Tuesday touched
their highest level in almost nine months, with energy stocks
leading the pack, as positive developments surrounding a
potential COVID-19 vaccine fanned optimism about a speedy global
AstraZeneca said on Monday its COVID-19 vaccine
could be up to 90% effective, and cheaper and easier to
distribute than rivals, sparking hopes that the fight against
the pandemic and its crippling economic fallout may soon be at
Risk appetite was also supported by data that showed U.S.
business activity expanded at the fastest rate in more than five
years in November.
Back home, Australia's Victoria state, the hotbed of the
country's second virus wave, reported zero active cases of
coronavirus for the first time in more than eight months,
putting it on track to effectively eliminate the virus.
The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 1.1% to 6,631.6 by 0003
GMT, the highest since Feb. 28.
Energy stocks hit their highest in more than five
months as oil prices climbed on vaccine optimism. Woodside
Petroleum added 3.5% and Santos tacked on 3.7%
to lead gains in the sub-index.
Heavyweight financials rose to an 8-1/2-month peak,
with top lenders Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Australia
and New Zealand Banking Group leading the charge.
The gold sub-index shed 5.8% to hit its lowest in
more than six months and was the only major sub-index in the
red, after the bullion tumbled to its weakest in four months on
better-than-expected U.S. business activity data.
Newcrest Mining and Northern Star Resources
were the biggest losers, giving up 4.6% and 5.8%,
New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index gained 0.5%
to reach 12,559.21, on course for a second straight session of
Local shares of Westpac Banking Corp and Australia
and New Zealand Banking Group jumped 2.7% and 2.5%,
(Reporting by Arpit Nayak in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry