February 14, 2020 / 1:39 AM / in 2 months

Australia shares set to end week firmer as earnings offset virus scare

* Australia stocks little changed in morning session

* The benchmark set to post biggest weekly gain in a month

* New Zealand benchmark about 0.2% down

* Oil explorer FAR plunges 8.8%, hits lowest in over 6 years

By Sameer Manekar

Feb 14 (Reuters) - Australian shares inched up on Friday and were set to end the week over a percent higher, as favourable reception of major corporate earnings eclipsed underlying worries over a mounting coronavirus death toll and infections in China.

The S&P/ASX 200 index edged up 0.06% at 7,107.60, as of 0020 GMT, and was on track to post its biggest weekly gain in a month.

Top lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia has gained over 6% over the week so far, and is set to post its biggest weekly rise since last May after posting a better-than-expected cash earnings for the half year.

Benchmark heavyweight financials stocks are set for a 3% weekly gain, with National Australia Bank rising up to 2.1%, and is set to close the week 4.4% firmer.

At its earnings briefing on Thursday, the lender said it is considering a fresh share sale and will revamp its strategy.

“It has been a very good week for the Australian equities, particularly the financial sector ... Today, the market is just consolidating its gains over the week around these levels,” James McGlew, executive director of corporate stockbroking at Argonaut said.

A jump in coronavirus cases capped further gains, with a further 4,823 cases being detected in Hubei, the epicentre of the outbreak, taking the total in the province to 51,986.

Among the decliners, mining sector slipped up to 0.4%, with BHP Group Ltd and South32 Ltd dropping 0.3% and 1.4%, respectively.

The energy sub-index slipped almost a percent and was set to post its fifth consecutive weekly loss.

FAR Ltd plunged 8.8%, hitting an over six-year low, after a tribunal ruled that the Africa-focused oil explorer did not have a pre-emptive right on ConocoPhillips’ sale of its stake in a Senegal oil and gas field to Woodside Petroleum .

Heavyweights Santos Ltd and Woodside Petroleum Ltd lost 1.7% and 1.6%, respectively..

Tracking overnight losses on Wall Street, the IT firms fell over 1%. The Nasdaq Composite dropped 0.14%.

Accounting software maker Xero Ltd and buy-now-pay-later firm Afterpay Ltd declined 1.6% and 1.3%, respectively.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index slipped about 0.2% to 11,854.62, but was on track to finish a second consecutive week in the positive territory.

Among the top decliners, Auckland International Airport Ltd slipped 0.7%, set for its worst weekly fall since mid-November, while Ryman Healthcare Ltd lost up to 1.1%.

Reporting by Sameer Manekar in Bengaluru; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips

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