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Australia: Shares hit hard as global concerns weigh

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[SYDNEY] Australian shares fell to their lowest level in more than two months on Monday as the gloom from Wall Street swept across the Asia Pacific region, a jittery start to a week in which the Federal Reserve is widely expected to hike interest rates.

The S&P/ASX 200 index shed 1.06 per cent, or 53.55 points, to 4,975.90 by 0141 GMT, extending last week's 2.37 per cent drop. The benchmark index fell as deep as 4,943.00, a low not seen since late September.

Sliding oil prices and worries about the effect of the Fed's first rate hike in nearly a decade appeared to weigh on sentiment. "The key factor affecting the market at the moment is the continuing oversupply of oil. It is dragging energy stocks down," said Gary Huxtable, client adviser at Atlantic Pacific Securities. "And there's nothing to suggest that oil prices won't head lower in the near term." Coal producers such as Whitehaven and New Hope Corp. continued to decline after a historic deal was forged to transform the world's fossil fuel-driven economy within decades in a bid to arrest global warming.

Whitehaven plunged more than 6 per cent to a record low of US$0.63, before steadying around US$0.66.

Losses were broad with almost every sector in the red except for safe-haven stocks such as those in the telecommunications and pharmaceutical sectors. Westpac Banking Corp. and Commonwealth Bank of Australia were both down about 1.5 per cent.

For more individual stocks activity click on New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.73 per cent, or 44.46 points, to 6,025.48.

Fletcher Building lost 1.29 per cent and online auction company Trade Me eased 0.71 per cent.

Outdoor activity retailer Kathmandu skidded 3.14 per cent in the wake of Morningstar cutting its status from"accumulate" to "hold".

Kiwi Property Group was a touch softer after the property investment firm announced it will invest NZ$11.5 million to accommodate New Zealand's first Zara store in an Auckland mall.

REUTERS