Jan 11 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed nearly 1% lower
on Tuesday, led by financials, as an Omicron-led surge in
COVID-19 infections in the country hovered near record levels,
sending major retailers lower.
The S&P/ASX 200 index ended 0.77% lower at 7390.1,
extending losses for the second consecutive session. The
benchmark fell 0.08% on Monday.
Australia reported 86,000 COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, with
two more states due to report later in the day, straining
hospitals already stretched thin and hitting company supply
Financial stocks slid as much as 1.7%, with some
investors factoring in the possibility of U.S. interest rate
hikes at quicker pace. Commonwealth Bank of Australia
led losses among the Big Four banks with a 1.8% drop.
"We are probably looking at faster and quicker interest rate
hikes coming out of the U.S. markets, which will filter to the
Australian markets in 2022 and 2023," said Dale Raynes,
associate director at CPS Capital.
Australia's two-biggest supermarket chains, Woolworths
and Coles, fell more than 2% each, while
Wesfarmers dropped 1.2%.
Retail sales data for November surged past estimates for a
second month, but a surge in COVID-19 infections since then
threaten to point to weaker showings in December.
Gold miners added 1.24%, leading to the index's
sharpest gain since December, on the back of a rise in the price
of the metal, considered a hedge against rising interest rates.
Resolute Mining rose 2.94% and Evolution Mining
New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.48%
to 12831.73, hurt by a 3.54% fall in movie software maker Vista
(Reporting by Navya Mittal; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta)