Australia's election surprise sends shares to 11-year peak

(Updates closing prices, adds contribution in terms of market value by "Big Four" banks)

By Tom Westbrook and Byron Kaye

SYDNEY, May 20 (Reuters) - Australian banking, property and private health insurers helped propel the broader sharemarket to an 11-year high on Monday as investors cheered the conservative coalition parties' surprise election victory over the weekend.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index closed 1.7% higher at 6,476.10 points, its highest level since 2007.

Shares of the country's biggest lender, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, No. 2 rival Westpac Banking Corp, market No. 3 Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd and the fourth-largest lender, National Australia Bank Ltd, rallied between 6.3% and 9.2%.

The 'Big Four' banks added over A$27 billion ($18.70 billion) in combined market value in the trading session.

"The uncertainty has been removed," said Jason Beddow, chief executive officer of A$5.3 billion fund manager Argo Investments Ltd.

"For about a year we've been talking about all these Labor policies and looking at the polls thinking they're going to get in. And in 24 hours all the things everyone's been talking about for a year just don't really matter, which is extraordinary."

With just over two-thirds of votes counted, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) said Prime Minister Scott Morrison's coalition has won 75 seats in Australia's parliament, one seat short of a 76-seat majority.

Most major opinion polls had pointed to a victory for the centre-left Labor party. Labor had campaigned on a policy of closing some tax loopholes for owners of investment properties, which had economists anticipating downward pressure on house prices already in decline.

Shares of property classifieds company REA Group were up as much as 7.6% to a record high before easing slightly, while those of its rival Domain Holdings Australia ended 2.3% higher during the session.

Private health insurance stocks also rose sharply. Labor had campaigned on promises to curb annual rises in private health insurance premiums.

Shares of the country's biggest private health insurer Medibank Private were up 11.5%, while smaller NIB Holdings surged 15.8%. Both stocks were the top gainers on the benchmark.

The Australian dollar also got a lift, and was last at $0.6906, having bounced from a four-month trough of $0.6865.

Yet markets are still convinced the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) will have to cut interest rates in the next few months, given protracted weakness in inflation and wages and a recent uptick in the unemployment rate.

The futures market implies a 62% chance of a quarter point cut in the 1.5% cash rate when the RBA board next meets on June 4. A move is almost fully priced for July and a further cut to 1% is baked in by December.

Coal companies Whitehaven Coal and New Hope Corp were up 1.4% and 1.8% respectively as climate change activists failed to sway the polls as much as expected.

Morrison, a coal promoter, won in part due to strong opposition to Labor in the coal mining heartland of Queensland state.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index ended the day up 0.5% or 53.35 points to 10,234.15.

NZ-listed shares of two of the 'Big Four' Australian-owned banks, Westpac and ANZ led the gains, up 9.1% and 7.7% respectively.

($1 = 1.4440 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Nikhil Kurian Nainan, Sonali Paul, Tom Westbrook, Byron Kaye and Wayne Cole; editing by Richard Pullin and Stephen Coates)

First Published: 2019-05-20 04:36:48
Updated 2019-05-20 09:08:24


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