Australian shares end higher as Omicron fears ease; post third monthly loss



* Collins Foods top gainer on ASX200

* Miners lead gains on the local bourse

* NZX 50 rises 1.5% (Updates to close)

By Riya Sharma

Nov 30 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed higher on Tuesday as concerns about the Omicron coronavirus variant eased further, although the benchmark index posted a third straight monthly loss.

The S&P/ASX 200 index .AXJO ended 0.22% higher at 7,256, after climbing 1% in early trade — the biggest since early-October​. For the month, the benchmark shed 0.9%.

Travel stocks rebounded after two days of heavy selling, as hopes that the new variant might be milder than initially feared boosted investor sentiment.

Airline operator Qantas Airways QAN.AX climbed 4.1% to mark its best day in over three weeks, while online travel websites Flight Centre Travel Group FLT.AX and Webjet WEB.AX jumped 6.7% and 6.2%, respectively.

"Investors have kept aside concerns over the impact of the new coronavirus variant on the economic recovery and are cautiously optimistic while waiting for more details on Omicron," said Kunal Sawhney, CEO of Kalkine Group said.

The country's economy also showed signs of strength, with Australia's current account surplus increasing A$1 billion in the September quarter to a record A$23.9 billion ($16.98 billion), thanks to iron ore and coal prices.

"Robust prices for exports of coal and other mineral fuels helped the nation observe a record surplus, however, the road ahead to economic revival seems bumpy as the new variant heightens concerns around global growth," said Sawhney.

Fast-food chain operator Collins Foods CKF.AX led gains on the local bourse, rising 13.8% to a record high after reporting upbeat first-half results.

Major miners .AXMM rose 0.27% as Chinese iron ore futures extended their rally, with BHP Group BHP.AX jumping 2.1% to its highest in more than two months.

Lithium miner Orocobre ORE.AX scaled 9.7% to a record high after a production upgrade at its annual general meeting.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index .NZ50 rose 1.5% to finish at 12,718.9. ($1 = 1.4077 Australian dollars)
Reporting by Riya Sharma in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V

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