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Australia: Healthcare stocks lead market slip, energy retailers pull New Zealand down

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Australian shares slipped on Wednesday as investors locked in profits in the healthcare sector, while a weaker Wall Street also prompted some selling.

[BENGALURU] Australian shares slipped on Wednesday as investors locked in profits in the healthcare sector, while a weaker Wall Street also prompted some selling.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was down 0.3 per cent or 21.50 points to 6,650.70 at 0047 GMT. The benchmark rose 0.3 per cent on Tuesday.

US stocks fell on Tuesday after British lawmakers rejected the government's proposed timetable for passing legislation to ratify Brexit. Markets fear the perceived impact to the global economy from a messy Brexit process.

In Australia, healthcare stocks were among the worst performing sectors early Wednesday, with the subindex shedding about 1 per cent. Buying of defensive stocks has pushed the sector up nearly 30 per cent this year, making it one of the best performers on the ASX 200.

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Market voices on:

"It's simply a bit of profit-taking or rebalancing of portfolios right now in the health space," said Brad Smoling, managing director at Smoling Stockbroking.

CSL, the largest stock in the sector and fourth-largest on the ASX 200 by market capitalisation, was down about 0.9 per cent. The stock touched a record high last week, and through Tuesday was up 9 per cent this month.

Financial stocks fell about 0.5 per cent, tracking their peers on Wall Street. The country's Big Four banks were about 0.3 per cent to 0.7 per cent lower.

Gold stocks rose 0.3 per cent, as bullion prices benefited from increased tensions over Brexit.

Global miner Rio Tinto climbed 0.5 per cent after it flagged a possible pullback or closure of an "unprofitable" aluminium smelter in New Zealand.

Miner Gold Road Resources rose 12 per cent and was the largest gainer on the ASX 200 after RBC upgraded the stock.

New Zealand shares had their biggest intraday drop since early September, as major electricity sellers were stung by Rio Tinto's plan to shut its aluminium smelter.

The benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 1.5 per cent or 164.31 points to 10,926.08.

Meridian Energy slid nearly 8 per cent and was the worst performer on the New Zealand benchmark. The company is the main supplier of electricity to the Rio Tinto smelter, which is New Zealand's biggest power consumer.

Other energy retailers Contact Energy Ltd and Mercury NZ Ltd fell 7.3 per cent and 5.7 per cent, respectively.

REUTERS