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Australia shares drop as markets eye Fed, ECB; NZ marks 4th record close

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The S&P/ASX 200 index was down 0.2 per cent, or 12.1 points, at 6,045.2. It advanced nearly one per cent this week, in its first weekly gain in four.

[BENGALURU] Australian shares ended lower after a thinly-traded session on Friday as investors kept to the sidelines ahead of key central bank meetings in the coming week with losses in industrial and material stocks outweighing gains in consumer and energy stocks.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was down 0.2 per cent, or 12.1 points, at 6,045.2. It advanced nearly one per cent this week, in its first weekly gain in four.

The upcoming US Federal Reserve, European Central Bank and Bank of Japan policy meetings, along with a summit between the United States and North Korea, have led markets to take a bit of risk-off, according to Mathan Somasundaram, a market portfolio strategist with Blue Ocean Equities.

Also, the Australian government softened proposed foreign interference laws to secure parliamentary support for the legislation which threatens to further strain ties with its major trading partner China.

Industrials were the biggest decliners with railroad operator Aurizon Holdings closing at its lowest in over two years, down 4.2 per cent, and the top weight on the main board.

Mining stocks fell in line with a drop in gold, base metal and iron ore prices. Top gold miner Newcrest Mining slipped 1.9 per cent.

Financials also ended in the red as Westpac Banking dragged the sector with a drop of 0.3 per cent.

Westpac appointed a new chief risk officer amid a financial sector inquiry that has uncovered widespread malpractices and forced the government to boost regulatory oversight.

Consumer stocks gained with gambling house Tabcorp Holdings up 2.2 per cent on news that it would sell its loss-making wagering and gaming joint venture Sun Bets.

On the other hand, firmer oil prices buoyed energy stocks such as Origin Energy, which climbed 0.9 per cent to finish at its highest in more than two weeks.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index hit its fourth straight record close, up 0.4 per cent at 8,938.45, and also notched up its best week since July 2016.

Healthcare stocks accounted for most of the gains on the index.

Retirement village operator Ryman Healthcare gained 1.5 per cent to an all-time high close.

REUTERS

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