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Australia shares slip on Syria, trade war concerns; NZ follows suit

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Australia shares slid on Thursday as investors fretted over the threat of an imminent US attack on Syria and China's commerce ministry saying that trade negotiations with the United States would be impossible.

[BENGALURU] Australia shares slid on Thursday as investors fretted over the threat of an imminent US attack on Syria and China's commerce ministry saying that trade negotiations with the United States would be impossible.

US President Donald Trump warned Russia on Wednesday of imminent military action in Syria, declaring missiles "will be coming" which led to major US indices falling between 0.4 per cent and 0.9 per cent.

China's commerce ministry said on Thursday that trade negotiations with the United States would be impossible because Washington's attempts at dialogue were not sincere. The ministry vowed to retaliate if Trump escalated current tensions.

On Thursday, the S&P/ASX 200 index slipped 0.2 per cent, or 13.2 points, to 5,815.5. It fell 0.5 per cent on Wednesday.

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The financial index contributed the most to the benchmark's weakness, dropping 0.4 per cent.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia fell 0.8 per cent and weighed on the main index the most while Westpac Banking Corp, the second-largest contributor to the benchmark's fall, slipped 0.6 per cent.

"The money is coming out of the banks...if you see the trade yesterday, banks were hit in the morning, lunch time and at the close," said Mathan Somasundaram, market portfolio strategist, Blue Ocean Equities.

He added that funds were likely taking money out of banks and putting it into resources, boosting materials.

Resource stocks were clear gainers on Thursday, with the Australian mining index firming 0.7 per cent. Global miners Rio Tinto and BHP gained 0.3 per cent and 0.7 per cent, respectively.

Energy stocks rose 0.4 per cent as oil markets remained tense on Thursday on concerns over a military escalation in Syria. Beach Energy Ltd gained the most, up 1.8 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index slipped 0.6 per cent, or 49.5 points, to 8,404.22, as most sectors dropped.

Health care stocks and consumer staples fell the hardest, with medical devices maker Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corp Ltd and a2 Milk Company Ltd losing 2.7 per cent and 1.9 per cent, respectively.

New Zealand said on Thursday it would not grant any new permits for offshore oil and gas exploration, surprising drillers with a decision they said would send investment overseas.

The government said the move would not affect the country's 22 existing exploration permits, and any oil and gas discoveries from firms holding those licences could still lead to mining permits of up to 40 years.

Petroleum explorer New Zealand Oil and Gas Ltd said on Thursday it does not expect any adverse impact on business from the decision. Its shares dropped 2.4 per cent to the lowest since August 2017.

Also on Thursday, New Zealand's stock exchange (NZX) recognised the Hong Kong, Singapore and Toronto stock exchanges for equity listings. The deal allows dual listing for companies and exemptions from nearly all the NZX's listing rules.

REUTERS