* Benchmark hits lowest closing level since Jan. 2019
* Top lender CBA falls for 11th straight session
* Energy stocks tumble 20% on falling oil prices
* NZ benchmark hits over 3-month closing low (Updates to close)
March 9 (Reuters) - Australian shares on Monday suffered the biggest daily drop since the global financial crisis, as investors dumped equities due to fears of a deeper economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak, with a plunge in oil prices adding to the panic.
The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index ended down 7.3% at a more than one-year low of 5,760.60, losing A$135 billion ($88.25 billion) in value. The index also marked its biggest daily drop since October 2008.
“There is no handbrake at the moment. It is complete capitulation,” said James McGlew, executive director of corporate stockbroking at Argonaut.
“Fear is by far the greatest driver in this market today,” he added.
Oil prices plunged around 30%, with U.S. oil futures heading for their biggest loss on record, after Saudi Arabia slashed prices and set plans for a dramatic increase in crude production in April.
In response, the Australian energy sector slumped 20% and was the biggest loser, with Woodside Petroleum and Santos Ltd slumping 18.4% and 27%, respectively.
The crash in oil prices hit sentiment already pressured by the rapid spread of the coronavirus, which has so far killed over 3,800 people worldwide and spread to more than 90 countries.
To counter the impact of the virus outbreak, the Australian government was planning measures worth about A$10 billion, abandoning its plans for a budget surplus in the fiscal year, the Australian newspaper said.
Index heavyweight financial stocks were among the biggest drags, falling 7.6%, with the “Big Four” banks posting hefty losses.
Top lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia shed 6.5%, marking its 11th straight session of losses, while second-largest bank Westpac Banking Corp fell 8.6%, finishing at its lowest since November 2011.
The mining sector tumbled 9.8%, the most since November 2008. Global miners BHP Group Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd slumped 14.4% and 6.4%, respectively.
Tech stocks ended 9% lower, with blue-chip firms Xero Ltd and Afterpay Ltd falling 5% and 16.1%, respectively.
In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 2.9% to finish at 11,091.81, its lowest close since November 2019.
NZ-listed shares of Westpac Banking Corp and dairy firm a2 Milk Co slumped 6.7% and 4.9%, respectively. ($1 = 1.5288 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Sameer Manekar in Bengaluru; additional reporting by Aby Jose Koilparambil; Editing by Aditya Soni)
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