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Australia shares edge lower on vaccine trial halts; NZ gains for eleventh day

10/13/2020 | 09:23pm

* CSL, James Hardie among few gainers after raising forecast

* Healthcare stocks at near 2-month high

* NZ50 on track to gain for 11th session in the run up to elections

Oct 14 (Reuters) - Australian shares inched down on Wednesday as halted vaccine trials and uncertainty around a U.S. fiscal stimulus package hit sentiment, though a jump in healthcare stocks led by CSL Ltd capped losses.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.1% to 6,191.30 by 0018 GMT, after closing 1% higher in the previous session.

Most sub-indexes were in the red but healthcare stocks remained a bright spot, climbing 1.7% to a near two-month high, powered by biotech major CSL.

The company raised its full-year profit forecast as it expected higher demand for vaccines, plasma and recombinant products amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

But overall sentiment was sombre after drugmaker Johnson & Johnson said on Tuesday it was pausing clinical trials of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate due to an unexplained illness in a participant.

Later in the day, rival Eli Lilly & Co also said it would halt its coronavirus antibody trial on safety concerns.

Diminishing hopes for the passage of a U.S. coronavirus bill also added to the gloom after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected the $1.8 trillion coronavirus relief proposal from the White House, calling it inadequate to support the pandemic-ravaged economy.

Heavyweight financial stocks led losses, falling 1.1%. The "Big Four" lenders slid between 1% and 1.5%.

The energy sub-index shed 1.2%, with the country's largest independent gas and oil producer Woodside Petroleum Ltd and smaller peer Beach Energy Ltd losing about 2% each.

Among top gainers, buildings materials supplier James Hardie Industries Ltd jumped 4.4% after raising fiscal 2021 outlook on experiencing solid demand for its services.

Meanwhile, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was up 0.3% to 12,489.20, on track to gain for the eleventh day in the run up to the election on Oct. 17.

Top percentage gainers were logistics provider Mainfreight Ltd, up 5.18%, followed by Infratil Ltd, gaining 1.74%.

(Reporting by Anushka Trivedi in Bengaluru; Editing by Rashmi Aich)

© Reuters 2021
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