Dec 30 (Reuters) - Australian shares inched higher on
Thursday, hitting their highest in more than three and a half
months in thin trading volumes, as gains in banks offset losses
in technology stocks.
The S&P/ASX 200 index had risen 0.1% to 7,518.6 by
2342 GMT even as surging COVID-19 infections dampened broader
sentiment. On Wednesday, it had jumped 1.2% to its highest since
Sept. 8 as trading resumed after a long holiday weekend.
Heavyweight financials rose as much as 0.5% to their
highest since Nov. 17, driven by the so-called "Big Four" banks.
Miners edged higher 0.2% and were set for a fourth
straight session of gains, with Perenti Global and
Champion Iron adding 1.1% and 0.8%, respectively.
Copper miner OZ Minerals climbed 0.6% to a level
last seen on June 2, 2008, boosted by strong commodity prices.
Capping gains in the benchmark index, technology stocks
slipped 0.5%, dragged down by a 2% drop in buy now, pay
later giant Afterpay.
Overnight, the Dow and the S&P 500 closed at all-time highs,
as investors shrugged off concerns surrounding the Omicron
variant. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite, however,
Gold stocks in Australia declined 0.6% even as
bullion prices steadied overnight. Tietto Minerals fell
more than 2% and was the top drag on the sub-index.
Meanwhile, Australia is in the grip of an outbreak of the
Omicron variant, with the country's new daily infections spiking
to nearly 18,300 on Wednesday, eclipsing the previous pandemic
high of around 11,300 hit in the previous day.
However, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has so far ruled out
lockdowns, urging people to focus on the number of patients
admitted to hospitals.
As 2021 draws to a close, the benchmark index is set to add
nearly 14% this year and reverse losses from the
pandemic-battered 2020, boosted by record-low interest rates and
New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was up 0.5%
(Reporting by Harish Sridharan in Bengaluru; Editing by