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Australia: Shares set for biggest weekly loss in 8 months, AMP slumps; NZ down

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[SYDNEY] Australian shares fell for a third straight session on Friday and on track for their biggest weekly loss in eight months, as financials were hit after Australia and New Zealand Banking Group and AMP issued profit warnings.

The S&P/ASX 200 index sagged half a per cent, or 28.24 points to 5,267.3 by 0133 GMT. The index is on track to lose about 3 per cent on the week. "There are stock specific stories that is weighing on the market," said Tony Farnham an economist with Patersons Securities, adding, "The financial sector was a major disappointment because of two specific stories, from AMP and ANZ."

AMP fell as much as 9.7 per cent to a near three-year low and was the top loser on the index, after the country's biggest retail wealth manager said it would book US$910 million in impairment and other one-off charges this financial year due to problems at its wealth protection unit.

ANZ shares declined 0.8 per cent, while Westpac Banking Corp and Commonwealth Bank of Australia followed suit. ANZ said it would record one-off charges of A$360 million alongside its full-year financial results, due Nov 3.

However, Australia's largest investment bank Macquarie Group moved in the opposite direction and was the top gainer on the financial index, after its half-year net profit beat estimates. Its stock rose 1.7 per cent.

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Some of the losses were offset by gains in energy and mining, which rose on higher commodities prices.

The energy index gained more than a percent, erasing five sessions of losses, as oil climbed after commitments from Gulf Opec members suggest they are of a mind to cut 4 per cent of their peak output.

Most major stocks on the energy index rose, with heavyweights Oil Search and Santos gaining 0.9 per cent and 1.6 per cent, respectively.

Fortescue Metals Group advanced 1.6 per cent and BHP Billiton jumped 2 per cent, after iron ore futures in China rose to a near 26-month high on firm demand for high-grade material.

Woolworths dominated the consumer staples space, rising 1.9 per cent, after the retail giant reported improved first quarter sales.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was down 0.1 per cent, or 8.8 points, at 6,933.14 in thin trading.

Gains in healthcare and industrials were negated by losses in materials and consumer stocks.

Summerset Group Holdings touched a three-week high, as the retirement villages operator said it expects to report 40 per cent to 46 per cent hike in underlying profit for the year ended Dec 31.

Fletcher Building was down as much as 1.5 per cent, its worst day in one week.


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