Australia: Shares finish lower as mining, energy stocks fall

[BENGALURU] Australian shares edged lower on Friday, dragged down by mining stocks after Rio Tinto raised concerns about steel production outside China, with sentiment taking a hit from a resurgence in coronavirus cases in Europe.

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed 0.5 per cent lower at 6,176.80, having risen 0.5 per cent on Thursday. The benchmark rose 1.2 per cent this week, recording its second straight weekly gain.

Shares of Rio Tinto fell 0.9 per cent after the world's biggest iron ore miner said steel production outside of China remains significantly down year on year while rising coronavirus cases were putting global economic growth at risk.

The broader mining sector lost 0.6 per cent, while benchmark heavyweight BHP Group ended 1.4 per cent lower.

Asian shares also declined as US stimulus talks stalled and rising coronavirus cases in Europe forced some countries there to revive curfews and lockdowns.

"We continue to see the big lift in Covid-19 cases, particularly across Europe, and now new restrictions coming through a number of European countries ... is another concern," said James Tao, market analyst at CommSec.

"Plenty of risk, plenty of volatility at the moment, so investors are taking any chance to take a bit of profit."

The Australian energy sector fell 1 per cent, tracking lower oil prices. Sector heavyweight Santos fell 2 per cent, while Oil Search tumbled 3 per cent.

Healthcare stocks declined 0.7 per cent, dragged lower by CSL which slid 0.7 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index closed 0.4 per cent lower at 12,433.16, ahead of election results on Saturday.

An opinion poll showed current Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern from the Labour Party is widely expected to beat her main rival, National Party leader Judith Collins, on the back of her success in tackling the coronavirus.

The top losers were Contact Energy, down 4.4 per cent, and Meridian Energy, losing 4.2 per cent.


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