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Australia: Shares end lower as traders shun risk on virus surge

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Australian stocks closed lower on Friday, as risk sentiment sagged after major central banks warned that near-term economic risks remain as coronavirus infections accelerate, leading to heavy selling in travel and energy shares.

[SYDNEY] Australian stocks closed lower on Friday, as risk sentiment sagged after major central banks warned that near-term economic risks remain as coronavirus infections accelerate, leading to heavy selling in travel and energy shares.

The S&P/ASX 200 index dropped 0.2 per cent to close the trade at 6,405.2 points. Still, the benchmark index notched a weekly gain of 3.5 per cent.

As the initial euphoria of vaccine news petered out, global equities were dragged down further after the US Federal Reserve and European Central Bank said the economy was still in for a tough time, while the Bank of England said there was still a long way for drug trials.

"You have not only one, but three heads of the central banks around the world just commenting on the fact that the economic picture is still pretty dire at the moment, so that will definitely have some weight on investor sentiment," said James Tao, market analyst at CommSec.

More than 52.45 million people have been reported to be infected by the novel coronavirus globally and about 1.3 million have died, according to a Reuters tally.

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Back home, Australian energy stocks fell as much as 2.4 per cent as crude prices declined on near-term fuel demand, while scaling gains of 14.2 per cent for the week.

Santos and Cooper Energy each lost more than 2 per cent while Beach Energy dropped 3.2 per cent to its worst session since Oct 29.

Travel and tourism stocks also fell, with Flight Centre Travel Group, and Corporate Travel Management each dropping more than 1 per cent.

Bucking the trend, gold stocks rallied 4.5 per cent as bullion prices inched up on economic slowdown concerns. Gold stocks, however, posted their worst week since the week ended Sept 25.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index reversed course to finish 0.2 per cent higher. The benchmark recorded its best week since the week ended Oct 9.

Medical device maker Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corp and logistics firm Mainfreight were the biggest percentage gainers.

REUTERS

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