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Australia: Shares set for record weekly drop as virus panic worsens

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Australian shares dropped 7 per cent on Friday, extending a sell-off that has put them on track for their biggest weekly drop ever as the rapidly-spreading coronavirus fanned fears of a global recession.

[BENGALURU] Australian shares dropped 7 per cent on Friday, extending a sell-off that has put them on track for their biggest weekly drop ever as the rapidly-spreading coronavirus fanned fears of a global recession.

The S&P/ASX 200 index declined 7.1 per cent or 374.9 points to 4,929.70 by 0059 GMT. The benchmark shed 7.4 per cent on Thursday in its biggest plunge since the 2008 global financial crisis.

At the session low, the benchmark has slid more than 31 per cent from a record high it hit in February.

On Thursday, global markets suffered a meltdown as alarm over the virus intensified, and governments from Ireland to Italy revealed new steps to contain its spread.

"Today is very much a black Friday," said James Tao, market analyst at CommSec.

Following US President Donald Trump's Europe travel ban, the negative news related to coronavirus are still pouring in and that is putting more fear into the markets, Mr Tao said.

Being a large exporter, with a great exposure to China, Australian markets are more vulnerable in these circumstances, added Mr Tao.

The country's stock exchange on Friday said in a tweet it does not have circuit breakers as it could stoke volatility. However, individual stocks could be paused for two minutes if there are large and sudden price movements, it added.

Financials, the heaviest constituent on the Australian benchmark, slumped 9.4 per cent and were on track for a 22.5 per cent weekly slump.

Among the big four lenders, Westpac Banking Corp and National Australia Bank tumbled more than 11 per cent.

Westpac said it was hit by a class-action lawsuit over damages relating to disclosure issues with its financial crime monitoring and a recent money-laundering scandal.

Mining sector slid 5.7 per cent, with global miners BHP Group and Rio Tinto dropping as much as 8.7 per cent and 6 per cent, respectively.

With oil prices sliding 7 per cent, energy stocks were also battered. Heavyweight Woodside Petroleum lost up to 8.3 per cent and gas firm Santos gave up over 9 per cent.

Gold stocks plunged as much 13.6 per cent to their lowest in over one year as bullion prices declined overnight.

Northern Star Resources dropped 16.4 per cent and Newcrest Mining shed 13.7 per cent.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index tumbled a record 7.4 per cent to 9,568.25. The benchmark was also on track for its worst week ever.

Tourism Holdings was the top percentage loser, diving up to 18.8 per cent to its lowest in over four years and Auckland International Airport lost 10.8 per cent after the duo flagged a bleak outlook due to the impact of Covid-19.

REUTERS