June 15, 2020 / 7:03 AM / a month ago

Australia shares end at 3-week low, NZ drops as virus worries weigh

* AU govt to run record budget deficits this year & next

* Healthcare stocks hit lowest level in 2-1/2 months

* NZ stocks post fifth consecutive loss (Updates to close)

By Shreya Mariam Job

June 15 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed at their lowest level in three weeks on Monday due to worries about a resurgence in COVID-19 cases across the world.

Investors moved away from riskier assets as Beijing, after weeks with almost no new cases, reported dozens of fresh infections in the past few days, and cases surged in the United States too.

“Reports of a new COVID-19 lockdown in Beijing speak directly to market fears that the measures taken to contain the virus so far are not enough,” Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets said in a note.

Denting sentiment further, Australia said it will run record budget deficits this year and next following spends on a big stimulus and infrastructure to aid its economic recovery.

The S&P/ASX 200 index ended 2.2% lower at 5,719.8, its lowest close since May 25, 2020.

Financial stocks shed 2.3%, marking their fourth straight session of declines, with the “Big Four” lenders falling in range of 1.5% to 2.8%.

Energy stocks dropped 3.4% after oil prices weakened on virus-led demand concerns.

Shares of Woodside Petroleum Ltd and Santos Ltd shed 3.3% and 3.9%, respectively.

Material stocks fell, with a 2.3% drop, marking their weakest close since May 29.

Shares of heavyweight miners BHP Group Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd shed 2.1% and 1%, each.

Healthcare stocks dropped as much as 1.7% to their lowest level since March 31. Shares of biotech company CSL Ltd lost 1.9%.

But healthcare firm Healius Ltd surged 21% to be the top percentage gainer on the benchmark after it announced the sale of its primary care business.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.4% to finish the session at 10,864.12.

The top percentage losers were Skycity Entertainment Group Ltd, down 4%, followed by Heartland Group Holdings Ltd , losing 3.8%. (Reporting by Shreya Mariam Job in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V)

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