February 26, 2020 / 1:58 AM / a month ago

Australian shares fall further as pandemic fears mount; NZ down

* Energy stocks hit more than six-month low

* Tech sub-index down for seventh session

* Healius surges on $1.40 bln takeover bid

By Niyati Shetty

Feb 26 (Reuters) - Australian shares fell more than 2% on Wednesday, extending losses into a fourth session, after U.S. health officials warned of a domestic coronavirus outbreak amid its rapid spread to more countries beyond China.

The S&P/ASX 200 index declined 2.2%, or 148.9 points, to 6,717.70 by 0157 GMT, shedding more than 6% in the past four sessions. Selling was broad-based, with nearly 93% of stocks trading in the red.

A top official at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans to begin preparing for coronavirus to spread within the country, while another official said it was no longer a question of if, but when, the virus would become a global pandemic.

The World Health Organization said countries need to prepare immediately for an outbreak of the virus so they can respond rapidly when it arrives.

The flu-like virus has now spread to several countries in Europe and the Middle East, with Switzerland, Austria and Romania reporting their first infections on Tuesday.

“There is concern that the containment of the virus might not be as simple, or as quick, as what markets were expecting early in the year when it was considered just a flash in the pan,” said James Tao, market analyst at CommSec.

Heavyweight financials dragged down the Australian bourse, with the so-called “Big Four” banks declining between 1.1% and 1.8%. Both Westpac Banking Corp and National Australia Bank lost 1.7%.

Miners slumped to their lowest in nearly three months, with BHP Group Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd dropping 2.3% and 1.9%, respectively.

“China being Australia’s largest trading partner there is certainly a potential impact not only on demand for commodities but also on the supply chain coming out of China,” CommSec’s Tao said.

Energy stocks fell to a more than six-month trough as oil prices extended losses overnight. Woodside Petroleum Ltd slid 3.7%, while Oil Search Ltd lost 2.5%.

The technology sub-index declined 3.1%, extending losses into a seventh session, tracking the sell-off in U.S. peers.

Meanwhile, Healius Ltd surged 16.3% after the medical centre operator late on Tuesday said private equity firm Partners Group offered to buy it for $1.40 billion.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was down 1%, or 115.13 points, at 11,604.10 after declining 2.2% in early trade.

Port of Tauranga and SKY Network Television were the worst performers on the index, falling 4.6% and 3.3%, respectively. (Reporting by Niyati Shetty in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)

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