June 24 (Reuters) - Australian shares fell on Thursday, hurt
by losses among financial and energy stocks, as sentiment was
subdued after the country's most populous state of New South
Wales braced for a rise in COVID-19 cases.
The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.3% to 7,279.70 points
by 0040 GMT. The benchmark was down 0.6% on Wednesday.
Elsewhere, Japan's Nikkei was up 0.01% and S&P
e-mini futures gained 0.2%.
New South Wales should brace for more COVID-19 cases on
Thursday, authorities said, as the state fights to contain a
fresh outbreak of the highly contagious Delta virus variant in
Sydney, Australia's largest city, that has swelled to more than
30 cases in a week.
Authorities imposed mandatory masks in all indoor locations,
including offices, and tightened curbs on movement and
gatherings for a week from Wednesday.
Energy stocks slipped 0.8%, despite oil prices
climbing to around two-year highs, weighed by the potential for
further curbs. Fuel retailers Ampol and Viva Energy
lost nearly 2% and 1%, respectively.
Financials were down 0.6%, hurt by losses in the
so-called "Big Four" banks.
Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Australia and New
Zealand Banking Group and National Australian Bank
declined between 0.7% and 1%.
Second-largest lender Westpac Banking Corp, which
fell as much as 1.1%, said it would retain 100% ownership of its
New Zealand business, after a review found that a demerger would
not be in the best interests of its shareholders.
The company was widely expected to spin off the unit to
avoid increasingly stringent regulatory requirements in New
Health stocks slid as sector heavyweight CSL
fell 1.8% and weighed on the index.
Bucking the trend, technology stocks added nearly
2%, tracking the Nasdaq's record-high close overnight,
with buy-now-pay-later giant Afterpay climbing 4.7%
New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was flat at
(Reporting by Vasudha Kaukuntla in Bengaluru; Editing by Amy