June 25, 2020 / 7:20 AM / 13 days ago

Australian shares end lower as virus surge trumps recovery optimism

* ASX benchmark sees worst session in nearly 2 weeks

* Energy and travel stocks lead losses

* Flight Centre Travel Group top loser on ASX (Updates to close)

By Pranav A K

June 25 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed 2.5% lower on Thursday, snapping a four-day winning streak, as rising concerns about a resurgence of coronavirus cases dashed hopes of a quick economic recovery.

The S&P/ASX 200 index ended 2.5% lower at 5,817.7 in its worst session since June 12.

A global tally of COVID-19 infections crossed 9.33 million, with Australia recording its biggest one-day rise in COVID-19 cases in two months. The United States posted its second-largest increase in cases since the crisis began.

Focus will also shift towards the earnings performance by companies, an analyst said.

“I think people are starting to realise you’re going to have to start paying attention to earnings and the other existential threats like the virus and stimulus ending” said Brad Smoling, managing director at Smoling Stockbroking.

Among individual shares and sectors, travel agent Flight Centre Travel Group slid as much as 11.5% and was the top percentage loser on the benchmark, while Qantas Airways Ltd announced plans to sack a fifth of its workforce and raise $1.3 billion to stay afloat.

Energy stocks led losses on the benchmark, falling 4.4% as oil prices slipped further, weighed down by record high U.S. crude inventories.

Whitehaven Coal Ltd fell 7.8% and Oil Search Ltd gave up 7%.

The financial sub-index, which accounts for a big number of the large cap stocks, slipped 3.1%. Shares of “Big Four” banks dropped between 2.3% and 3.5%.

An index of gold stocks clocked a 3.6% decline as bullion prices eased 0.1%, as a selloff in equity markets drove rush for cash.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index declined 1.2% or 135.05 points to 11,124.36, dragged lower by heavyweight financial stocks. (Reporting by A K Pranav in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V)

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