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    XJO   XC0006013624

S&P/ASX 200

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Australia shares end lower as new COVID-19 cases emerge over weekend

01/18/2021 | 02:39am EDT

* BHP, Rio Tinto drop; quarterly output results eyed

* QBE Insurance tumbles after UK court's COVID-19 policy ruling

* Electronics retailer JB Hi-Fi jumps on upbeat profit forecast

* NZ index slips 1.4%, power companies lead losses

Jan 18 (Reuters) - Australian shares ended lower on Monday, as the emergence of new COVID-19 cases in New South Wales over the weekend and news the country may not fully reopen its international borders this year despite the vaccination drive dented sentiment.

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.

Six locally acquired cases were registered on Sunday in the New South Wales state, all close contacts of a man who tested positive on Friday in a western Sydney suburb. But no locally acquired cases were reported in Australia on Monday.

As authorities investigated the source of the latest outbreak in the Sydney suburb, the head of Australia's health department warned the country may not fully reopen its international borders this year even if most of the population is vaccinated against coronavirus.

The news drove shares of travel-related stocks such as Qantas, Webjet and Flight Centre Travel Group down 1% or more during the session.

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%, respectively.

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 interruption claims.

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 Jacob-Phillips and Himani Sarkar)

© Reuters 2021
Stocks mentioned in the article
ChangeLast1st jan.
BHP GROUP -2.16% 37.65 End-of-day quote.-11.27%
CONTACT ENERGY LIMITED -0.98% 8.11 End-of-day quote.-8.98%
FLIGHT CENTRE TRAVEL GROUP LIMITED -0.49% 20.29 End-of-day quote.28.01%
HARVEY NORMAN HOLDINGS LIMITED 0.00% 4.95 End-of-day quote.5.54%
JB HI-FI LIMITED 1.40% 47.83 End-of-day quote.-1.62%
MERIDIAN ENERGY LIMITED -0.40% 5.02 End-of-day quote.-32.35%
PFIZER, INC. 0.70% 43.16 Delayed Quote.16.27%
QANTAS AIRWAYS LIMITED 0.18% 5.7 End-of-day quote.17.53%
QBE INSURANCE GROUP LIMITED -0.34% 11.83 End-of-day quote.38.69%
RIO TINTO GROUP -1.82% 95.03 End-of-day quote.-16.52%
S&P/ASX 200 0.00% 7415.5 Real-time Quote.12.57%
SANTOS LIMITED -2.22% 7.04 End-of-day quote.12.28%
WEBJET LIMITED 0.16% 6.32 End-of-day quote.24.65%
WOODSIDE PETROLEUM LTD -2.84% 23.27 End-of-day quote.2.33%
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