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Australasia, News

Australian shares end at record high as Middle East conflict cools

* Healthcare stocks end at all-time high

* BHP gains for sixth straight session

* Suncorp estimates up to A$345 mln in bushfire claims cost (Updates to close)

Jan 9 (Reuters) – Australian shares closed at a record high on Thursday, as worries of a larger Middle East conflict eased following remarks from the United States and Iran.

The S&P/ASX 200 index ended 0.8% or 56.6 points higher at 6,874.20.

President Donald Trump said on Wednesday the United States did not have to respond militarily to Iran’s attack, while Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said its strikes “concluded” Tehran’s retaliation.

Tensions in the Middle East heightened last week after a U.S. drone strike killed Iranian top military commander.

Healthcare stocks, that have a significant exposure to U.S. markets, ended at a record high.

Drugmaker CSL Ltd, the fourth-largest stock on the index, climbed 1.8% and local shares of California-based Resmed Inc gained 1.5%.

Mining giant BHP Group extended gains into a sixth straight session with a 1.2% rise, while rival Rio Tinto added 1.3%.

Iron ore prices slipped on Thursday but had surged to a five-month closing highs in the prior session amid hopes of strong restocking demand in Chinese mills ahead of holidays.

The heavyweight financial index was lifted by top lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia, up 0.7%.

Insurer Suncorp Group said it received 2,600 bushfire-related claims since September, estimating costs of up to A$345 million ($237.15 million). The company’s shares closed 1.3% higher as it is largely covered by their reinsurance programme.

Gold stocks retreated as abating Middle East tensions dampened demand for the safe-haven bullion. Top gold miner Newcrest Mining fell 2.5%, while Northern Star Resources lost 3.2%.

Energy stocks snapped a five-session gaining streak after crude prices slipped over 4% on Wednesday.

Elsewhere, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index slipped 0.2% or 19.3 points to 11,537.68.

Utilities firm Meridian Energy fell 3.9%, while Ryman Healthcare lost 2.6%. ($1 = 1.4548 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Niyati Shetty in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V)

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