February 13, 2020 / 2:10 AM / 16 days ago

Australia shares pull back from record high as virus tally surges; NZ down

* Coronavirus death toll surges by daily record 242 in Hubei

* Global expert says outbreak just ‘beginning’ outside China

* Synlait Milk plunges 18% after bleak profit outlook

* National Australia Bank shares up 3.5%

Feb 13 (Reuters) - Australian shares pulled back from a record high on Thursday as a jump in coronavirus death toll ratcheted up concerns of global economic slowdown, sending investors towards safe-haven assets.

Sentiment was dampened after Hubei - the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak - reported a record rise in the death toll on Thursday.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was up 0.2% at 7,098.20, as of 0120 GMT. Earlier in the session, the benchmark rose 0.8% to an all-time high of 7,145.80.

The grim new tally came a day after China had reported its lowest number of new coronavirus cases in two weeks, bolstering a forecast by Beijing’s senior medical adviser for the outbreak there to end by April.

However, solid corporate results from lenders lifted sentiment earlier in the session, with National Australia Bank (NAB) rising as much as 3.5%.

Investors cheered slightly higher margins as NAB benefited from home loan repricing, which helped cushion the blow of lower rates.

Peer lenders Westpac Banking Corp and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group tracked gains to advance as much as 1.9% and 1.2%, respectively.

“We have got over the worst of the Royal Commission. In a world looking for yield of very low interest rates, Australian banks are looking very attractive,” said Brad Smoling, managing director at Smoling Stockbroking.

Financials sub-index extended gains into a third session, hitting their highest since last October.

Energy sub-index advanced up to 1.7%, lifted by an overnight rise of 3.3% in oil prices.

Fuel retailer-cum-convenience-store operator Caltex Australia gained 3.2% after it received a sweetened offer from Alimentation Couche-Tard for A$8.80 billion ($5.93 billion).

AGL Energy gained up to 5.7% after it reported bit.ly/39sko4Y a smaller-than-expected drop in its first-half profit.

Among decliners, AMP Ltd fell nearly 5% after the wealth manager posted its biggest annual loss since 2003 and forecast a drop 20% in full-year operating earnings in its domestic wealth management unit.

The country’s largest telecom company Telstra Corp lost 2.5% after it posted a nearly 8% fall in its half-year profit.

The New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index hit a fresh record high in early trade before reversing course to trade 0.3% lower.

The benchmark was dragged by a 18% fall in dairy firm Synlait Milk, which forecast a drop in full-year profit due to registration delays of infant formula brands in China and the coronavirus outbreak.

$1 = 1.4846 Australian dollars Reporting by Sameer Manekar in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips

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