Australia shares rise as potential COVID-19 drug lifts confidence

* Gold sub-index sole loser among major indices

* “Big Four” banks rise between 2.6% and 3.5%

* Sezzle hits record high after placement

By Arundhati Dutta

July 13 (Reuters) – Australian shares rose on Monday after positive trial results of an experimental COVID-19 treatment overshadowed investor fears about a surge in infections in Victoria, the country’s second most-populous state.

Market sentiment improved late last week as data from a late-stage study showed that U.S. biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences Inc’s antiviral drug remdesivir significantly improved clinical recovery and reduced the risk of death in COVID-19 patients.

Australia granted provisional approval to Gilead’s remdesivir as the first treatment option for COVID-19 in the country, the Therapeutic Goods Administration had said on Friday.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 1.4% to 6,002.1 points in early trade, rebounding from previous session’s losses.

Meanwhile, the state of Victoria marked a week of triple-digit increases in fresh infections on Sunday, while a community outbreak in neighbouring New South Wales put the state on high alert.

The energy sub-index advanced 2%, riding on Friday’s jump in oil prices. The index was led by Santos Ltd, up 3.3%, followed by Origin Energy Ltd gaining as much as 2.4​%.

Oil Search Ltd rose up to 2% in early trade, despite announcing an impairment of around $380 million in its half-year results on some major exploration assets and a gas-to-power project in Papua New Guinea.

The ASX all-ordinaries index climbed 1.3%, led by buy-now-pay-later firm Sezzle Inc, which surged to a record high after raising A$79.1 million ($55.05 million) from institutional investors.

The gold sub-index dropped 1.3% and was the sole loser among major indices. Dacian Gold Ltd, down 15.8%, was the biggest laggard.

Financial stocks rose 2.7%, with the “Big Four” banks rising between 2.6% and 3.5%.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.5% to 11,455.84 by 0116 GMT.

The top percentage gainers in the index were telecom operator Chorus Ltd, up 2.8%, followed by Oceania Healthcare Ltd gaining 2.1%.

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