March 11, 2020 / 2:02 AM / 18 days ago

Australian shares fall as investors worry over stimulus

* Markets await proposed stimulus measures

* Financials weigh on ASX benchmark

* NZ benchmark gain about 0.5%

By Pranav A K

March 11 (Reuters) - Australian shares dropped nearly 2% on Wednesday as investors worried that the impending stimulus measures would not be adequate to lift its economy hit by the coronavirus, while doubts about the U.S. stimulus package also dented sentiment.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell about 1.6%, or 95.9 points to 5,843.70 by 0047 GMT. The benchmark rebounded 3.1% on Tuesday following its biggest daily drop since the global financial crisis, at the start of the week.

On Tuesday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government would soon announce measures to prop up the economy. The Australian newspaper pegged the package to be worth about A$10 billion ($6.49 billion)

The country on Wednesday unveiled a health package worth A$2.40 billion that proposed to set up fever clinics and offer cost-free facilities for people to consult doctors over video calls, as total virus cases in the country rose to more than 100 from 80 the previous day.

“The proposed stimulus is regarded as fairly good, but at this stage it is not a real positive for the market and it is more about reducing (virus) concerns among the people,” said Doug Symes, senior client adviser at Novus Capital.

Wall Street futures, too, fell following a jump in equities overnight as lack of significant announcements after U.S. President Donald Trump said he would take “major steps” to ease the economic strain left some investors unimpressed.

Heavyweight financials slid 2.2%, with all the “Big Four” slipping between 2.3% and 2.7%. Among the top lenders, National Australia Bank declined the most.

Metals and mining stocks fell 1.8%, with the world’s largest miner BHP Group Ltd shedding up to 2.5%.

Newcrest Mining Ltd tumbled 7.1% after the country’s largest listed gold miner lowered its gold production forecast for the full year.

Gold stocks plunged as much 4.7% to their lowest in over a week as bullion prices declined overnight.

Gold miner Northern Star Resources lost up to 3.1%, while Evolution Mining and Saracen Mineral Holdings slipped 3.6% and 5.5%, respectively.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 58.54 points or 0.5% to 10,956.0.

The country’s flag carrier Air New Zealand added 4.5%, while Contact Energy rose 4.2%. ($1 = 1.5399 Australian dollars) (Reporting by A K Pranav in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V)

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