* BHP, Rio Tinto drop; quarterly output results eyed
* QBE Insurance tumbles after UK court's COVID-19 policy
* Electronics retailer JB Hi-Fi jumps on upbeat profit
* NZ index slips 1.4%, power companies lead losses
Jan 18 (Reuters) - Australian shares ended lower on Monday,
as the emergence of a fresh COVID-19 cluster in the state of New
South Wales and news that the country may not fully reopen its
international borders this year despite the vaccination drive
The S&P/ASX 200 index slipped 0.8% to 6,663 at the
close of trade, in line with a risk-off sentiment across broader
Asia amid worries over rising global coronavirus cases.
As authorities investigated the source of the latest
outbreak in the Sydney suburb, the head of Australia's health
department warned that the country may not fully reopen its
international borders this year even if most of the population
is vaccinated against coronavirus.
Local authorities were also looking at potential adverse
effects of the Pfizer vaccine after Norway reported a
small number of deaths in old people who received the shot.
Dour sentiment drove mining stocks lower despite a
rise in copper and iron ore prices, with heavyweights BHP Group
and Rio Tinto shedding around 3% and 1.5%,
Investors will shift focus to quarterly production numbers
from both the mining giants over the next two days to gauge top
commodity buyer China's appetite for the products.
Energy stocks slipped in line with crude prices,
with Woodside Petroleum losing 0.5% and Santos
giving up 0.8%.
QBE Insurance Group fell nearly 6% and was among
the index's biggest losers after the United Kingdom's top court
ruled in favour of policyholders on COVID-19 business
JB Hi-Fi was a bright spot in the index, rising
3.8% after the electronics retailer forecast a surge in
half-year profit on the back of strong demand for home
appliances and strong online sales.
Shares of competitor Harvey Norman Holdings also
jumped 3.7% after JB Hi-Fi's outlook update.
New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 1.4%
or 186.3 points to finish the session at 12,838.36.
Meridian Energy, and Contact Energy Ltd
closed down 5.5% and 3.9%, respectively.
(Reporting by Rashmi Ashok in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry