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Australia, NZ shares end lower as virus worries persist

The S&P/ASX 200 index slipped 0.8 per cent, or 50.20 points, to 6,657.90 at the close of trade.

Reuters|
Last Updated: Feb 27, 2020, 01.03 PM IST
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Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday became one of the world's first leaders to acknowledge the threat of the virus spreading beyond global containment efforts.
Australian shares closed lower for the fourth straight session on Thursday as sentiment remained fragile following the rapid spread of the coronavirus, with the country kicking off emergency measures to contain the outbreak.

The S&P/ASX 200 index slipped 0.8 per cent, or 50.20 points, to 6,657.90 at the close of trade. The benchmark has tumbled 6.7 per cent this week through Thursday's close, wiping out about A$152 billion ($100.26 billion) in companies' market value.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday became one of the world's first leaders to acknowledge the threat of the virus spreading beyond global containment efforts.

"We believe the risk of a global pandemic is very much upon us," Morrison told a news conference in Canberra.

Australia has reported 23 cases of coronavirus, although 15 - all of whom arrived from China - have now been discharged from hospital.

The impact on local businesses has also been extensive with the epidemic prompting firms to cut over $500 million from profit forecasts in the current financial year, according to a Reuters analysis.

The heavyweight financial stocks weighed on the benchmark on Thursday, extending a four-day losing streak that also marked the lowest close since early January.

Shares of the "Big Four" banks declined between 1.4 per cent and 2.1 per cent, with Australia and New Zealand Banking Group falling the most.

Energy stocks declined 2 per cent, as oil prices plunged to their lowest since January 2019. Shares of Worley Ltd dropped 2.8 per cent, while those of Oil Search fell 2.9 per cent.

Healthcare stocks were a bright spot. Benchmark heavyweight CSL Ltd gained 2.2 per cent, snapping a five-day losing streak.

Gold stocks rose 1.9 per cent as virus fears boosted demand for the precious metal, with the country's biggest independent gold miner, Newcrest Mining, gaining 1.3 per cent.

Shares of Northern Star Resources rose 3 per cent.

Separately, shares of Afterpay Ltd closed 1.4 per cent up after a choppy session. The buy-now-pay-later firm reported a bigger-than-expected half-yearly loss, but recorded a five-fold jump in U.S. underlying sales.

Meanwhile, Malaysia licence win helped earths explorer Lynas Corp snap three sessions of losses and climb 5 per cent.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.8 per cent, or 96.69 points, to finish the session at 11,437.17.

Shares of Fletcher Building shed 2.6 per cent, while those of Air New Zealand slipped 1.3 per cent.

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