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Australia: Shares flat as financials drag; New Zealand little changed

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Australian shares swung between positive and negative territory on Wednesday, with top lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia dragging on the benchmark, offsetting gains in gold and mining stocks.

[BENGALURU] Australian shares swung between positive and negative territory on Wednesday, with top lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia dragging on the benchmark, offsetting gains in gold and mining stocks.

The coronavirus outbreak, which has resulted in more than 2,000 deaths in China as of Tuesday, continued to hit overall sentiment, with casino operator Crown Resorts the latest among Australian companies to flag financial headwinds due to the epidemic.

"We are seeing the evidence at company level of the impact of coronavirus, and the market is starting to turn less optimistic," said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

Logistics software maker WiseTech Global slumped as much as 19.2 per cent after it cut its full-year 2020 earnings forecast on the coronavirus impact.

The S&P/ASX 200 index ticked up about 0.1 per cent to 7,117.9 by 0050 GMT.

The financials sub-index fell up to a per cent, marking its biggest intraday fall in over two weeks.

CBA fell up to 2.9 per cent trading ex-dividend and marked its worst session in more than six months. The firm had announced a A$2 per share interim dividend last week.

No. 2 lender Westpac Banking Corp lost up to 0.9 per cent after it said its fiscal 2020 earnings would be hit by a rise in costs related to deadly bushfires and a lawsuit brought by financial crime regulator AUSTRAC.

Capping losses were gold stocks, which rose up to 3.7 per cent after bullion surged over 1 per cent overnight, with heavyweights Newcrest Mining and Northern Star Resources tacking on 4.4 per cent and 2.3 per cent, respectively.

The mining sector gained up to 0.7 per cent, with iron ore-focused player Fortescue Metals Group rising 4.7 per cent, its best day in nearly a month, after it reported a near four-fold rise in its half-year profit.

Consumer stocks also gained, led by Wesfarmers, which hit a record high in early trade, after posting a 5.7 per cent rise in first-half profit, defying broader retail headwinds.

Meanwhile, Crown Resorts erased early losses in the session to inch up 0.5 per cent.

Crown reported an 11 per cent fall in its half-year profit as Chinese high-rollers scaled back spending amid a slowdown in the world's second-largest economy.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.2 per cent to 11,959.53.

Among heavyweight stocks, telecom firm Spark New Zealand gained up to 2 per cent following upbeat half-yearly profit, and dairy firm a2 Milk added up to 1.5 per cent.

REUTERS