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Australia: Shares close lower as banks weigh

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Australian shares ended lower on Monday as losses in the country's leading four banks eclipsed strong corporate earnings, while investors weighed the near-term hit on global growth from the coronavirus outbreak.

[BENGALURU] Australian shares ended lower on Monday as losses in the country's leading four banks eclipsed strong corporate earnings, while investors weighed the near-term hit on global growth from the coronavirus outbreak.

Investors were still trying to gauge the economic fallout of the coronavirus outbreak, with health authorities reporting 1,933 new cases on Monday within the Hubei province - the epicentre of the epidemic.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index closed 0.1 per cent lower at 7,125.1 in its lowest volume session this month. The slightly tepid start to the week comes after a 1.5 per cent weekly jump as the earnings season gets into full swing.

The so-called "big four" banks, after marking strong gains last week, were all in the red led by Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA).

CBA ended 1.7 per cent weaker, while National Australia Bank trimmed early losses to close 0.3 per cent lower after the third-largest lender said it plans to raise A$750 million (S$701.2 million) and shore up its capital levels and refinance debt.

Helping limit losses was a more than 4 per cent rise in QBE Insurance, after the insurer reported a big jump in full-year profit, while better-than-expected revenue growth at logistics firm Brambles Ltd saw its stock close 3.9 per cent firmer.

Another bump came from Caltex Australia, which agreed to give Alimentation Couche-Tard additional access to its books on a non-exclusive basis. Shares of the takeover target were up nearly 4 per cent, though still below the Canadian company's last offer price.

In another mergers and acquisition announcement, National Storage Reit climbed more than 6 per cent as investors reacted to an after-market update on Friday where the company disclosed it received a second buyout offer.

The Australian firm granted US-based Public Storage access to due diligence after it made an offer than valued it at A$1.89 billion, which National Storage says is superior to the one it received from Gaw Capital last month.

Over in New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index ended up 0.3 per cent at 11,873.98, supported by a jump in a2 Milk Co.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern lowered her country's gross domestic product (GDP) growth forecast range to nearly 2-2.5 per cent this year due to the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

It came in below previous prediction of GDP growth of 2.2 to 2.8 per cent. She said the impact will be seen in the first two quarters of the year.

REUTERS