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Australia: Shares inch lower as financials drag; New Zealand gains

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Australian shares edged lower on Thursday, pulled down by losses in heavyweight financial stocks, even as the country's second-most populous state reported its lowest single-day rise in new coronavirus infections in more than three weeks.

[BENGALURU] Australian shares edged lower on Thursday, pulled down by losses in heavyweight financial stocks, even as the country's second-most populous state reported its lowest single-day rise in new coronavirus infections in more than three weeks.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was down 0.3 per cent to 6117.8 by 0112 GMT, on track for a second consecutive day of declines.

Financial stocks dominated losses on the local benchmark, falling nearly 1 per cent with the 'Big Four' banks dropping between 1.4 per cent and 2.7 per cent.

AGL Energy, the country's top power producer, dropped nearly 9 per cent and was the top percentage laggard to the benchmark as it warned that its profit could shrink as much as 30 per cent in fiscal 2021.

Victoria state logged eight coronavirus deaths on Thursday, down from 21 a day earlier with the number of new daily infections also showing signs of improvement.

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Among the gainers, technology stocks tracked their US peers higher, jumping over 2 per cent with buy-now-pay-later firm Afterpay adding nearly 2 per cent.

Gold stocks rallied 1.5 per cent after the yellow metal recovered from its worst fall in seven years.

Newcrest Mining, which is set to report its full-year results on Friday, advanced nearly 2 per cent, while Evolution Mining gained 1.9 per cent after reporting a higher annual profit.

Wealth manager AMP Ltd was on course for its best session since late August 2003 as it sought to return A$544 million (S$535 million) to shareholders through a special dividend and buyback.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.68 per cent to 11570.36 as of 0121 GMT, set for its best session in over a week on the back of healthcare stocks.

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand surprised markets on Wednesday by expanding its bond-buying programme and warned that policy rates might have to go below zero to revive the coronavirus-battered economy as the country was plunged back into lockdown.

REUTERS

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