Australian shares close lower as spiralling pandemic stokes recovery fears

(Reuters) - Australian shares on Thursday closed at their lowest level in more than three weeks as surging cases of COVID-19 around the world stoked fears of a difficult global economic recovery.

FILE PHOTO: A board displaying stock prices is seen at the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) in Sydney, Australia, Feb. 9, 2018. REUTERS/David Gray

The S&P/ASX 200 index .AXJO ended 1.6% lower at 5,960.30, its lowest since Oct. 5, with gold and energy stocks leading the declines.

Twelve U.S. states set records for hospitalised COVID-19 patients, while Germany and France announced plans to shut large swathes of public life for a month as the pandemic spread across Europe.

“At the moment, it’s pretty clear that Europe is going into lockdown. So, there is definitely a downgrade cycle coming out of Europe... and post-election, I assume parts of the United States will be going into restrictions as well,” said Mathan Somasundaram, CEO of Deep Data Analytics.

Denting sentiment further were jitters over U.S. election’s outcome and fading hopes of a stimulus deal before the polls.

“The market keeps being negative till we see some clarity,” Somasundaram said.

The Australian energy index .AXEJ declined 2.9% on weaker oil prices. Santos STO.AX fell 5%, while Woodside Petroleum WPL.AX lost 2%.

Gold stocks .AXGD shed 4.2%, with Westgold Resources WGX.AX losing 8.9% and OceanaGold Corp OGC.AX sliding 5.5%.

The broader mining index .AXMM fell 2.2%. BHP Group BHP.AX and Rio Tinto RIO.AX declined 2.2% and 1.1% each.

Orocobre Ltd ORE.AX tumbled 3.8% after the lithium producer flagged a 24% fall in quarterly production from its flagship Olaroz mine in Argentina.

Australian tech firms .AXIJ fell 2%, tracking tech stocks on Wall Street overnight. Afterpay APT.AX fell 3.3%, while WiseTech Global WTC.AX lost 1.7%.

The heavyweight financial index .AXFJ closed 1.5% lower, with all the "Big Four" banks ending in the negative territory.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index .NZ50 closed 0.5% lower at 12,201.80.

Top losers were Oceania Healthcare OCA.NZ, losing 3.6%, and Air New Zealand AIR.NZ that fell 3.4%.

Reporting by Nikhil Subba in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V