July 31, 2020 / 6:58 AM / 13 days ago

Australia shares drop for second week as virus cases rise, U.S. data disappoints

(Updates to close)

By Soumyajit Saha

July 31 (Reuters) - The Australian benchmark index fell on Friday to its lowest close in three weeks, posting a second straight weekly fall as rising coronavirus cases fed fears of stricter lockdowns and dismal data from the United States battered risk sentiment.

The country recorded its deadliest day of the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday with 14 deaths, taking total fatalities from the virus to 190, more than half of which have been in Victoria.

“That we could see even stricter restrictions in Victoria as it continues to see elevated covid cases and growing clusters... will have a major impact on the economic performance for the country as a whole since it contributes a fair amount of output,” said James Tao, market analyst at CommSec.

Further denting sentiment, data showed that the U.S. economy suffered its biggest blow since the Great Depression in the second quarter, largely due to a virus-led slump.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 2% to 5,927.8 points and was down 1.6% for the week. The index was up 0.5% for the month.

Among sectors, the energy subindex dropped as much as 4% to hit its lowest in 2-1/2 months, with Woodside Petroleum and Santos Ltd giving up 2% and 3%, respectively.

Power and gas retailer Origin Energy dropped nearly 5% on posting a fall in fourth-quarter revenue from its share in the Australia Pacific LNG (APLNG) project. Financials dropped 2.8%, with the “big four” banks losing between 2.2% and 3.3%. Mining stocks fell 2.4%, with global miners BHP Group and Rio Tinto falling 2.9% and 2.4%, respectively.

Wealth manager AMP Ltd was the biggest loser on the index, after it said it expects underlying profit to more than halve in the first-half.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index ended 0.3% higher, helped by gains among healthcare and industrial stocks.

The index gained 0.8% for the week, and registered a 2.4% gain for the month. (Reporting by Soumyajit Saha in Bengaluru; Editing by Vinay Dwivedi)

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