Australia shares rise on mining and healthcare gains; NZ slips

* Healthcare stocks at near 6-month high on record healthcare spending in budget

* Miners soar for 7th session as iron ore futures hit record high

* Mining stocks close at highest since Sept. 2011

* NZ slips after six sessions of gain (Updates to close)

April 3 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed at a near 7-month high on Wednesday as soaring iron ore prices boosted miners, while healthcare stocks surged after Australia's government earmarked record spending for the sector in its pre-poll budget.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.68 percent or 42.6 points to 6,285.0 at the close of trade. The benchmark rose 0.4 percent on Tuesday.

Australia's conservative government on Tuesday proposed tax cuts for low and middle income earners while promising the first budget surplus in more than a decade, in a bid to woo voters ahead of an upcoming election.

Sentiment was also lifted by data showing Australia's retail sales growth in February soared to its highest since late-2017, easing fears of a drop in consumer spending amid a steep property downturn.

Miners continued on a dream run, surging 1.7 percent to close at their highest since September, 2011 as iron ore futures in China hit a record high on the back of supply disruption worries.

Index heavyweights BHP Group and Rio Tinto rose 2.2 percent and 1.9 percent, respectively. Both mining giants have flagged lower iron ore output following disruptions to operations after a cyclone in Western Australia.

Fortescue Metals Group, the world's fourth largest miner, rose 2 percent after touching an over 10-year peak in the previous session.

Miners have benefited since February after top iron ore supplier Brazil's Vale SA's tailings dam collapsed, sending iron ore prices soaring as operations at multiple other mines were halted due to safety concerns.

A surge in iron ore exports also helped Australia's trade surplus swell beyond expectations to A$4.8 billion ($3.4 billion) in February, data showed.

Healthcare stocks rose 0.9 percent to a near 6-month high, with index heavyweight CSL Ltd notching the top percentage gain at 1.1 percent, while Cochlear Ltd firmed 0.6 percent.

"The budget announcement had a positive influence on the market today, particularly in the sectors where funding was prominent," said Danial Moradi, equity strategist at Lonsec.

Meanwhile, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index slipped 0.19 percent or 19.09 points to finish the session at 9,939.26, after hitting a record high in the previous session.

Among top losers on the index was Spark New Zealand which slipped 3.3 percent after its managing director Simon Moutter stepped down. (Reporting by Rashmi Ashok in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Aby Jose Koilparambil; diting by Sion Cameron-Moore)

2019-04-03 07:46:07

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