* ASX at over seven-month high
* Easing restrictions in Victoria lift sentiment
* South32 marks best day since Aug. 21
Oct 19 (Reuters) - Australian shares ended at their highest
in more than seven months on Monday after the state of Victoria,
the country's coronavirus outbreak epicentre, eased months-long
Driven by gains in financial and healthcare stocks, the
S&P/ASX 200 index gained 0.9% to 6,229.40 - its highest
since March 6.
Victoria, Australia's second-most populous state, will see
more freedom of movement as of Monday, with the state government
eyeing the reopening of restaurants and retail stores by Nov. 1.
"In terms of economic recovery, the first step is obviously
(to) get the economy moving again and that involves scaling back
restrictions," said James Tao, market analyst at CommSec.
The heavyweight financial index climbed 1.2%, with
all the "Big Four" banks finishing higher.
"The possible increase in positive business conditions
translates into less pressure on the financials," said Brad
Smoling, managing director at Smoling Stockbroking.
Global sentiment also improved after U.S. House Speaker
Nancy Pelosi raised hopes that a coronavirus relief package
could be passed before the presidential election.
Data released earlier on Monday showed China's economic
recovery accelerated in the third quarter, but missed
expectations. Strong monthly figures, however, pointed to an
expansion in economic activity.
The data from China is "still a pretty decent number
considering you've got basically every other major economy in
the world going backwards ... and by some margin as well,"
CommSec's Tao said.
Healthcare stocks gained 1.6% to close at a near
two-month high, propped up by a 1.7% rise in CSL and a
2.2% climb in Cochlear.
Miner South32 posted its biggest one-day percentage
gain since Aug. 21 after posting a 3.2% rise in quarterly
manganese ore production.
In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index,
slipped 0.4% to 12,385.25.
The top losers were Meridian Energy Ltd, down
3.54%, followed by Serko Ltd, losing 3.27%.
(Reporting by Nikhil Subba in Bengaluru; Editing by Aditya