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Australia: Shares close at near 11-month low on virus impact fears; NZ falls

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Australian shares closed at a near 11-month low on Friday, tracking declines on Wall Street and across broader Asian peers as fears of a global economic fallout due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus epidemic continued.

[BENGALURU] Australian shares closed at a near 11-month low on Friday, tracking declines on Wall Street and across broader Asian peers as fears of a global economic fallout due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus epidemic continued.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 2.8 per cent to finish at 6,216.20, its lowest close since April 11, 2019. The index also marked its second straight weekly loss, falling 3.5 per cent over the week.

Among broader Asian peers, the MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 2.1 per cent, while overnight, all the three major US indices declined up to 3.6 per cent.

The escalating virus epidemic has stoked concerns of global economic impact, with the S&P Global Ratings forecasting Australian growth to slow sharply to 1.2 per cent in 2020. The agency also expects the epidemic to knock US$211 billion off the combined economies of Asia-Pacific.

Three more people died from the virus in France, taking the total to seven, while Britain logged its first death from the pathogen. Australia recorded its second death on Thursday, with 60 cases reported so far.

"Australia's most-disrupted sectors employ a large share of workers which will weaken both the labor market and consumer confidence," Shaun Roache, Asia-Pacific chief economist at S&P Global Ratings said.

The heavyweight financials sub-index incurred heavy losses, ending 4.2 per cent lower in its worst session since June 2016. The sub-index recorded its second straight weekly loss, declining 8.6 per cent.

All the Big Four lenders ended in the red, with top two banks, Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac Banking Corp losing 3.7 per cent and 4 per cent, respectively.

CBA shares declined for a 10th straight session, and clocked their worst weekly fall in over 11 years.

The mining sector ended 2.4 per cent lower, with global miners BHP Group and Rio Tinto shedding 3.7 per cent and 2.5 per cent, respectively.

Energy shares ended at their lowest close since August 2017, and recorded their eighth straight weekly loss.

Bluechip firms Woodside Petroleum and Santos Ltd fell 3.4 per cent and 2.6 per cent.

Tracking overnight losses on Wall Street, the local technology sub-index slipped 4.2 per cent. The sub-index fell 3.7 per cent over the week, its fourth weekly loss.

Gold stocks posted their biggest weekly gain in nearly eight months as bullion prices were on track for their best weekly gain since 2016.

Heavyweights Newcrest Mining and Northern Star Resources advanced 1.9 per cent and 2.9 per cent.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index slipped 1.9 per cent to finish at 11,425.90.

NZ-listed Westpac Banking Corp and electricity generator Meridian Energy declined 4.2 per cent and 4.7 per cent, respectively. 

REUTERS