* Benchmark records best session in 15 months
* Energy, travel stocks rise on demand optimism
* Lynas Rare Earths hits decade-high
* Coal exporters gain on Indonesia export ban
Jan 4 (Reuters) - Australia shares jumped 2% on the first
trading day of the year on Tuesday, notching their best intraday
session in 15 months, as a surge in commodity prices lifted
heavyweight energy and mining sectors.
The S&P/ASX 200 index closed higher at 7,589.8 on
Tuesday, their strongest closing level since mid-August. The
benchmark climbed 13% in 2021.
Investors appeared to show scant response to reports of
local COVID-19 infections hitting a record high and
hospitalisations rising due to the Omicron coronavirus variant,
with the Australian government remaining headstrong in its
decision to reopen the economy.
Mining stocks, which comprise more than a third of
the benchmark, rose 2.2% to hit a four-month high on strong iron
ore prices. Shares of BHP Group climbed 2.1% and
Fortescue rose 3.3%.
Lynas Rare Earths, the largest rare-earths producer
outside China, added 8.5% to hit a near 10-year high after the
company got environmental approvals last week to build a
permanent disposal facility for water-leached purification
residue in Malaysia.
Energy stocks climbed 3.9%, their most in more than
three months, as oil prices rose on the prospect of demand
recovery for the commodity in the coming year.
Brad Smoling, managing director at Smoling Stockbroking,
said demand optimism for travel was behind the rally in energy
and travel stocks.
Investment firm Washington H Soul Pattinson and Co
and Woodside Petroleum led gains among energy stocks,
up 4.7% and 3.4%, respectively.
Coal miners Whitehaven Coal and Yancoal Australia
jumped 5.8% and 7.7%, respectively, as prices rose
sharply following Indonesia's coal export ban.
Travel management firms Flight Centre Travel,
Corporate Travel Management and Webjet clocked
gains between 4.2% and 5.7%, while carrier Qantas rose
Markets in New Zealand were closed on Tuesday, and
will resume trade on Wednesday, Jan. 5.
(Reporting by Harshita Swaminathan; Editing by Sherry