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Australia: Shares fall most in over 6 months on virus concerns; New Zealand slumps

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Australian shares fell the most in more than six months on Tuesday as fears mounted the new coronavirus outbreak was rapidly developing into a pandemic that will derail global economic growth.

[BENGALURU] Australian shares fell the most in more than six months on Tuesday as fears mounted the new coronavirus outbreak was rapidly developing into a pandemic that will derail global economic growth.

The S&P/ASX 200 index declined as much as 2.6 per cent to its lowest since Jan 8 and was down 2.3 per cent at 6,816.90 by 2320 GMT, with banking and energy stocks leading the decline.

Selloff was broad-based, with less than 10 per cent stocks in the index trading in the positive territory.

The new flu-like virus has now killed 2,663 people in mainland China and spread to 29 other countries, with a death toll outside of China of about two dozen.

Overnight, all the three major US stock indexes lost between 3.3 per cent and 3.7 per cent, with the energy and technology sectors leading the fall.

Given the big risks, predominantly coronavirus and China shutdown, which is at best a month away, or worse two months, this fall seems like to be just a scratching of the surface, said Mathan Somasundaram, a market portfolio strategist at Blue Ocean Equities.

"If things get messier, this might extend to a bigger fall," Mr Somasundaram added, advising a defensive position.

Leading the losses in the benchmark stock index, the heavyweight financial sector fell up to 2.6 per cent.

All the "Big Four" lenders slid for a second straight session, with Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac Banking Corp shedding as much as 2.2 per cent and 2.6 per cent, respectively.

The energy sub-index hit its lowest since August-end, as oil prices slumped nearly 4 per cent overnight.

Oil Search lost nearly 5 per cent after the company flagged higher spending in 2020 and reported a drop in annual profit.

Heavyweights Woodside Petroleum and Santos fell 3.3 per cent and 4.2 per cent, respectively.

The mining sector hit its lowest in more than two months, and was on track for a third consecutive session of fall.

Blue-chip miners BHP Group and Rio Tinto lost 2.5 per cent and 2.7 per cent, respectively.

Tracking Wall Street peers, local tech companies marked their sixth straight session of losses, losing up to 4.8 per cent in their biggest intraday fall since mid-August.

Software-as-a-service firm Xero shed 4.8 per cent, while buy-now-pay-later firm Afterpay skidded 6.7 per cent.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index declined up to 3.2 per cent in its worst session since October 2018 and was last down 2.7 per cent at 11,537.94.

New Zealand-listed shares of Westpac Banking Corp and electricity generator Meridian Energy were down 2.5 per cent and 3.6 per cent, respectively.

REUTERS