January 31, 2020 / 1:36 AM / 20 days ago

Australia, NZ shares set for first weekly drop of this year on virus fears

* Tourism, travel stocks rise after sharp falls earlier this week

* Link jumps on European deal; corporate earnings start in mid-Feb

By Nikhil Nainan

Jan 31 (Reuters) - Australian shares advanced on Friday as investors bought into beaten-down stocks, with fears over the coronavirus epidemic and its economic impact putting the benchmark index on track for its first weekly loss of this year.

The novel flu-like virus, which has left 213 people dead and been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organisation, has dominated headlines this week as China scrambles to contain its spread and other countries restrict travel to the country.

The S&P/ASX 200 index advanced 0.5% to 7,040 by 0135 GMT, but was down 0.7% for the week, heading for its first weekly drop of this year.

“It is all a bit of guesswork at this moment, until we have a cure or a better understanding,” said Damian Rooney, director of equity sales at Argonaut.

Business activity has been hit due to severe restrictions on movement in China, with investors spending much of the week worrying about the impact of coronavirus on the world’s second-largest economy.

“Anything that effects the growth engine of the world is going to have a material impact on the world,” Rooney added.

Mining stocks rose despite weaker commodity prices, with BHP Group adding 1.1% and Fortescue Metals Group gaining 2%.

Most other sectors like travel and tourism were in positive territory after declining sharply earlier this week.

Online travel booking firm Webjet Ltd climbed over 1%, while Flight Centre Travel Group and Corporate Travel Management rose 1.7% and 0.9%, respectively.

Virgin Australia Holdings jumped 3.5%, though it has a very small free float.

UBS says a two-month halt to China package tours could cost Australia at least $1 billion in service exports, while the secondary impact could be much higher.

Investors will also be eyeing the upcoming corporate earnings season which will start in mid-February.

Investment services provider Link Administration Holdings was the top gainer after it said it would buy Pepper Group’s European loan servicing, advisory and asset management business for 165 million euros ($183.05 million).

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.2% to 11,645.07 and was on track for a 2% weekly loss, its worst so far this year.

Fletcher Building dropped 1.8%, while China-exposed a2 Milk Company fell more than 1%.

Air New Zealand said it would be curtailing its flights to Shanghai. Its shares rose 0.7%. For more individual stocks activity click on (Reporting by Nikhil Kurian Nainan in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)

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