February 14, 2020 / 7:02 AM / 9 days ago

Australia shares mark best week in a month on rosy earnings

(Updates to close)

By Soumyajit Saha

Feb 14 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed higher on Friday, rising more than 1.5% in a week that saw better-than-expected corporate earnings lift prospects for heavyweight financials despite investor concerns over the fast-spreading coronavirus outbreak.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.4% to close at its best week in a month.

Financial stocks rose to end over 3.6% for the week, their best week in nine months.

Top lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia posted its biggest weekly rise since last May on Friday after reporting a better-than-expected profit for the half year a day earlier.

Shares of National Australia Bank were at their highest close in three months as brokerages Jefferies and Morgan Stanley upgraded the stock’s rating and price targets.

Wealth manager AMP Ltd saw its best trading session in over six months, as brokerage Morgan Stanley said it sees earnings closer to stabilising in FY20.

Global markets were jolted on Thursday by a jump in the daily coronavirus death toll in China’s Hubei province, when a change in the methods of diagnosing patients led to a record spike in cases, though the numbers were reduced by Friday’s update.

Among decliners, gold stocks lost over 1% as the country’s largest listed gold miner Newcrest Mining dropped to its lowest close in more than eight months.

Energy stocks also fell to lose more than 1.4% over the week.

Australia’s top independent gas producer Woodside Petroleum reported a 25% drop in annual underlying profit on Thursday, adding that the coronavirus outbreak was hampering its efforts to seal gas deals and sell stakes in a key growth project.

Oil explorer FAR Ltd plunged 8.8% after a tribunal ruled that the company did not have pre-emptive rights on ConocoPhillips’ sale of a stake in a Senegal oil and gas field to Woodside Petroleum. Across the Tasman sea, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index slipped about 0.4% but closed the week higher.

Airport operator Auckland International Airport Ltd and utilities company Meridian Energy Ltd fell 1.1% and 1.4%, respectively. (Reporting by Soumyajit Saha in Bengaluru; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

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