Australian shares steady after sharp losses, gold stocks shine

* “Big four” banks lose between 0.7% and 1.1%

* Australian gold index hits record high

* Energy stocks rise for third session

July 23 (Reuters) - Australian shares traded steady on Thursday, as gains in gold and energy stocks offset losses in most other sectors after authorities warned of a hit to economic growth.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was down 0.04% to 6,072.7 by 1249 GMT after Wednesday’s 1.3% drop.

Australia recorded 501 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, its highest since the epidemic took hold in March, with Victoria state accounting for 97% of the fresh cases.

The surging cases prompted authorities to make masks mandatory in Melbourne, Victoria’s capital and Australia’s second most populous city, and flag a hit to third-quarter economic output.

Most major sectors were trading in the red, with tech stocks leading the fall. Buy-now-pay-later firm Afterpay was the top loser with a near 2% drop.

The financial index slipped as much as 0.8%, with the “big four” banks losing between 0.7% and 1.1%.

Westpac Banking Corp, the country’s second-largest lender, tapped Deutsche Bank’s chief of Australia and New Zealand as its institutional business head.

The gold sub-index rose for a fifth straight session and hit a record high as bullion prices hit a nine-year peak on U.S.-China tensions and stimulus hopes.

Newcrest Mining, Australia’s biggest listed gold miner, was the top gainer on the index after reporting fourth-quarter production above estimates.

The energy index climbed for a third straight session. Santos Ltd led the gains with a rise of up to 2.6% after saying it expected steady output in the near term.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index slipped 0.2% to 11,701.7, with Oceania Healthcare leading the fall after reporting a 15% drop in full-year profit. (Reporting by Arundhati Dutta in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)