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Australia: Shares halt four-session winning streak; New Zealand flat

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Australian shares traded lower on Monday, dragged down by heavy losses in financial stocks, as investors booked profit following last week's rally in the banking sector, which helped the benchmark index post its biggest weekly gain in a month.

[BENGALURU] Australian shares traded lower on Monday, dragged down by heavy losses in financial stocks, as investors booked profit following last week's rally in the banking sector, which helped the benchmark index post its biggest weekly gain in a month.

Cautious investors were still trying to gauge the economic fallout of China's coronavirus outbreak, with Chinese health authorities reporting more than 5,000 new cases on Friday. In Hubei - the epicentre of the epidemic - 1,933 new cases and 100 new deaths were reported on Sunday, taking the total number of deaths in the province to nearly 1,700.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was down 0.2 per cent at 7,115.6, as of 2350 GMT, and on track to snap four consecutive sessions of gains.

The financial sub-index fell up to 0.8 per cent on Monday after last week's 3.6 per cent rise, lifted primarily by heavyweights Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac Banking Corp, which advanced 7.3 per cent and 2.8 per cent over the week.

"We had close to 4 per cent gains in the past week from the financials, which are unsustainable," Steven Daghlian, a market analyst at CommSec said.

"This is a reflection how well financials have done in the past week, and a bit of money is being taken off the table."

National Australia Bank, which gained 5.5 per cent over the previous week, marked its worst session since Feb 3 as the country's third-biggest lender launched the resale of capital notes worth A$750 million (S$701 million) on Monday.

Mining sector traded little changed, with global miners BHP Group and Rio Tinto falling up to 0.5 per cent and 0.3 per cent, respectively.

Among the gainers, energy stocks advanced up to 0.6 per cent, with Woodside Petroleum and Caltex Australia driving the gains.

Takeover target Caltex Australia added 4.2 per cent after the oil retailer said it would allow Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc to conduct additional due diligence, following a sweetened buyout offer last week.

Gold stocks rose up to 1.3 per cent, with miners Saracen Mineral Holdings and Regis Resources advancing 3.9 per cent and 5 per cent after upbeat half-yearly results.

General insurer QBE Insurance Group rose 1.1 per cent after posting a 41 per cent surge in its full-year statutory net profit after tax.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was trading flat after falling for two consecutive sessions.

Financials and utilities sectors were the top drags, with NZ-listed shares of Westpac Banking Corp and electricity generator Meridian Energy losing up to 1.4 per cent each.

REUTERS