* Financial sector leads gains with all Big Four lenders up
* Woolies, Coles rise after German outfit cancels Australia plans
* New Zealand benchmark finishes 0.7% higher (Updates to close)
By Aby Jose Koilparambil
Jan 22 (Reuters) – Australian shares jumped nearly 1% on Wednesday to log their highest close, powered by significant gains in financial and consumer stocks.
The S&P/ASX 200 index closed 0.9% higher at 7,132.70. It dropped 0.3% on Tuesday, snapping a record-breaking bull run over the previous five sessions.
In Asia, China equities painted an isolated picture on fears that a virus outbreak could play havoc with overall demand, particularly in the tourism sector, even as most major regional markets looked the other way.
The fear of missing out is in play and investors (in the Australian market) don’t want to miss out on this rally, said Henry Jennings, senior analyst and portfolio manager at Marcustoday Financial Newsletter.
The heavyweight financials sector climbed about 0.9%, with all the Big Four lenders closing higher.
But gains in National Australia Bank were limited as the lender erased earlier losses to finish just 0.04% up.
Earlier in the day, it fell after law company Maurice Blackburn said it had filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of more than 330,000 account holders against two entities of the lender for alleged breaches in pension laws.
Meanwhile, consumer majors Woolworths Group and Coles Group gained more than 3% each after a newspaper reported German supermarket chain Kaufland has cancelled its plans to expand in Australia.
Technology stocks also advanced, with software solutions provider WiseTech Global Ltd closing 4.7% higher to be the top percentage gainer in the sector.
“We’ve seen some really big moves from some of the bigger companies which has helped propel the market higher. CSL , Woolies and Macquarie Group all hit all-time highs,” said James Tao, a market analyst at CommSec.
In the metals and mining sector, Fortescue Metals Group jumped more than 5%, hitting a record high, after Credit Suisse upgraded the iron-focused miner to “neutral” rating.
Santos Ltd closed up 0.8% as the company posted record annual production, benefiting from higher gas output at its Western Australia assets.
Among losers, auto retail company AP Eagers closed about 6% lower, while St Barbara ended 4.3% down after the gold firm cut its production guidance for the Gwalia project in Western Australia.
Elsewhere, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index gained 0.7%, posting a record closing high of 11,889.68.
Dairy firm a2Milk Co was the top percentage gainer on the New Zealand benchmark, closing more than 4% higher. (Reporting by Aby Jose Koilparambil and Shreya Mariam Job, additional reporting by Nikhil Subba in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)