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Australia shares end lower as corporate earnings, COVID-19 cases loom

08/05/2020 | 02:40am

* CBA, Woodside Petroleum due to report earnings next week

* Bullion prices help gold stocks surge

* Victoria reports record rise in COVID-19 cases and deaths

Aug 5 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed lower on Wednesday as investors stayed away from risky bets ahead of the corporate earnings season, while a spike in domestic COVID-19 cases continued to bruise risk sentiment.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was down 0.6% at 6,001.3 points at the close of trade.

Crucial earnings filings by top lenders such as Commonwealth Bank and National Australia Bank, and energy giants AGL Energy and Woodside Petroleum, are slated to come in starting this week.

"We've been through a 'confession season' with more than half of the top companies having pushed guidance down or withdrawn it altogether ... as a result we are going in blind into this earnings season," said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

"The (virus-related) numbers from Victoria today were quite high again, another reason to be cautious."

Victoria, the country's second-most populous state, reported a record rise in fresh COVID-19 cases and deaths on Wednesday, even as it prepared to close much of its economy to control a second wave of infection.

Adding to the market's uncertainty, leading economies United States and China said they would review the implementation of their Phase 1 trade deal in a video-conference on Aug. 15.

"The tension in that (Sino-U.S.) relationship has been growing for the past few weeks, and with the two largest economies at loggerheads the rest of the world is unlikely to go well," McCarthy added.

Financials dropped 0.8%, with three of the 'Big Four' banks falling in the range of 0.3% to 1.3%.

The sub-index for healthcare stocks receded more than a percent, with heavyweight CSL Ltd losing 1.8%.

Industrial stocks were down 1.5%, dragged by losses among the likes of Transurban Group and Sydney Airport Holdings, down 1.4% and 2.3%.

Bucking the tepid trend, gold stocks surged about 3%, as prices of the underlying yellow metal scaled an all-time peak, helped by bets for more stimulus measures against the pandemic-ravaged global economy.

The country's largest independent gold miner Newcrest Mining Ltd jumped 2.9%.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index ended 0.1% lower at 11,757.7 points, hurt by financial and healthcare stocks.

(Reporting by Soumyajit Saha in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)

© Thomson Reuters 2020
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