Company News

Australian shares flat as virus cases slow, NZ hits 6-month high

* ASX benchmark snaps two straight session of losses

* Fortescue jumps 2.5% on record profit, dividend hike

* Afterpay hits record high, bolsters tech stocks

Aug 24 (Reuters) - Australian shares were little changed on Monday, as a drop in fresh coronavirus infections in the state of Victoria and a boost from technology stocks offset early losses in energy and healthcare.

The S&P/ASX 200 index ticked 0.05% higher to 6,112.4 points by 0121 GMT, after falling 0.3% in early trade. The benchmark lost about 0.2% last week, snapping two straight weeks of gains.

Victoria reported its lowest daily rise in new coronavirus cases in seven weeks, fanning hopes that a deadly second wave there is subsiding. The state on Monday reported 116 cases and 15 deaths from the virus in the past 24 hours, down from a peak of more than 700 cases early this month.

Tech stocks jumped 2.4% and hit an all-time high, boosted by the country’s biggest buy-now-pay-later firm Afterpay Ltd.

Afterpay said it would acquire Spain-based peer Pagantis to expand its operations into Europe, sending its shares to a record high.

Energy units fell 1.3% and led losses on the benchmark as the country’s top independent gas producer Woodside Petroleum slid more than 2%.

Meanwhile, Qantas Airways dropped 4.1% after the carrier announced the departure of its international division head in a cost-saving move.

Fortescue Metals Group advanced 2.5% and kept mining stocks afloat after the world’s fourth-biggest iron ore miner posted a record full-year profit and quadrupled its final dividend.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.4% to 11,878.6, its highest level since Feb. 24, supported by utilities and industrial stocks.

Data showed that the country’s retail sales volumes fell a seasonally adjusted 14.6% in the second quarter. (Reporting by A K Pranav in Bengaluru; Editing by Shailesh Kuber)