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Australia: Shares wobble amid coronavirus fears; New Zealand up

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Australian shares struggled for momentum on Thursday as mounting worries over the global economic impact of a rapidly spreading coronavirus dented risk appetite.

[BENGALURU] Australian shares struggled for momentum on Thursday as mounting worries over the global economic impact of a rapidly spreading coronavirus dented risk appetite.

The S&P/ASX 200 index swung between gains and losses and was down about 0.2 per cent at 6,133.80 by 2355 GMT, after losing 6.3 per cent in the last four sessions.

Concerns about the epidemic grew further after New York authorities said more than 80 people were being monitored for the disease on Long Island, adding to worries over its spread in Europe and the Middle East.

"It's all about the uncertainty around the coronavirus and that's eating into the broader sentiment," said Doug Symes, senior client adviser at Novus Capital.

"However, the number of ASX200 stocks gaining today is higher compared with the past three-four sessions and the recovery is mostly concentrated around those who have come out with positive news or earnings reports recently."

Financials, a heavyweight sector in the benchmark, declined more than 1 per cent for the fourth straight session, with the "Big Four" banks trading in the red.

Bank of Queensland, however, gained as much as 3.2 per cent after the lender announced a five-year strategy.

Energy stocks fell sharply, with the sub-sector index losing about 1.8 per cent after oil prices fell to their lowest in more than a year overnight on demand worries.

Among gainers, Australia-listed shares of New Zealand-based dairy firm a2Milk jumped more than 9 per cent to a near seven-month high on solid half-year profit growth and strong China demand in the first two months of the year amid the virus outbreak.

Lynas Corp also gained after Malaysia approved a new three-year licence that allows the Australian miner to operate the only major rare earths processing plant outside of China.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose after three consecutive sessions of losses. The benchmark was up 0.3 per cent at 11,573.30.

a2Milk Co was the top percentage gainer on the benchmark, while movie software provider Vista Group International Ltd tacked on more than 4 per cent.

REUTERS