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Australia: Shares close year of historic highs and lows little changed


[BENGALURU] Australian shares wrapped up 2020 little changed from where they had begun, with tech stocks emerging as winners due to meteoric growth in buy-now-pay-later firms, while energy stocks saw their worst year since 2015.

On Thursday, the S&P/ASX 200 index ended 1.4 per cent lower at 6,587.1, capping off a year of record highs and historic lows just 1.5 per cent below where it had closed in the first session of 2020.

Trading volumes were about a fifth of the thirty-day average, with the few traders left at their desks during year-end holidays looking towards stricter Covid-19 movement curbs ahead of the New Year as authorities battle to quash fresh cases.

Tech stocks closed 2020 as their best year on record with a gain of nearly 57 per cent, mostly powered by exponential growth in buy-now-pay-later firms as stuck-at-home Australians turned to alternative credit for online shopping.

Afterpay quadrupled its market value, while smaller peers Sezzle and Zip rose more than 200 per cent and 50 per cent, respectively.

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Miners gained 18 per cent, with their bull run projected to continue into 2021 backed by rising iron ore prices.

BHP Group and Rio Tinto added more than 11 per cent and 15 per cent, respectively.

Energy stocks closed nearly 30 per cent lower as pandemic-induced lockdowns battered fuel demand, but a turnaround is expected in 2021 as oil prices stabilise.

For the day, all major sub-indexes except gold were trading lower.

Gold stocks climbed 0.5 per cent, tracking an uptick in spot bullion prices, while energy stocks slumped 1 per cent as oil prices dipped.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index settled 1 per cent lower for the day, but closed the year 15 per cent firmer.

Dairy producers a2 Milk and Synlait were among the top losers of 2020 as their over-exposure to China saw their shares getting hammered over the last two quarters.


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