March 6, 2020 / 12:51 AM / a month ago

Australia shares fall nearly 2% as virus fears strengthen grip

* Financials, miners among top losers in Australia

* ASX benchmark heads for 2nd weekly drop, down 2.6%

* NZ benchmark down about 1.4% on Friday

By Aby Jose Koilparambil

March 6 (Reuters) - Australian shares fell about 2% on Friday, tracking a sell-off on Wall Street as concerns over the rapid spread of coronavirus outbreak outside China overshadowed optimism over support from various stimulus measures worldwide.

U.S. stocks tumbled overnight as a new wave of fear about the widening disease and its economic impact gripped investors.

Three more people died from the virus in France, taking the total to seven, Britain logged its first death from the pathogen, and the number of people in New York state who have tested positive doubled to 22 following a significant increase in testing. The virus has now claimed more than 3,300 lives worldwide.

The S&P/ASX 200 index slid about 2% to 6,273.90 by 2359 GMT and was poised to lose about 2.6% for the week, marking its second successive weekly fall.

The index climbed 1.1% on Thursday, tracking sharp gains in U.S. stocks on moderate Joe Biden’s success in the “Super Tuesday” primaries for the Democratic presidential nomination.

“Markets failed to hold onto yesterday’s better tone as news of the spread of COVID-19 in Europe and the U.S. continued. Risk liquidation and demand for safe-haven assets resumed,” ANZ Research analysts said in a note.

The ASX Financials and Metals & Mining - the two most prominent sector-based indexes on the benchmark in terms of weightage - fell about 2.4% and 1.2%, respectively.

All the constituents of the financials index but ASX Ltd fell, including the blue-chip Big Four banks.

Top miners such as BHP Ltd and Rio Tinto bled heavily despite prices of most industrial metals climbing overnight on expectations of further measures from central banks and governments to prop up economic growth. BHP and Rio Tinto declined about 2% each.

Energy stocks were also in the red as oil prices fell on demand worries, overshadowing an OPEC deal to cut crude output by an extra 1.5 million barrels per day in the second quarter, the deepest cut since the 2008 financial crisis.

Woodside Petroleum, Oil Search, Santos and Beach Energy declined around 2% each.

Gold stocks gained as investors scurried to park money in the safe-haven asset. The ASX bullion index was poised for a fourth straight session of gains.

Top gold miner Newcrest Mining added about 2%, while OceanaGold Corp was the top percentage gainer, tacking on more than 5%.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index lost 1.4%, but was set to gain nearly 2% for the week.

Meridian Energy was the top percentage loser on the index, falling nearly 4%. (Reporting by Aby Jose Koilparambil in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)

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