April 3, 2020 / 1:54 AM / 2 months ago

Australian shares give up early gains amid virus fears; energy stocks jump

* Benchmark index set for best weekly gain in over 8 years

* Energy stocks record best intraday gain since Oct 2008

* Mining stocks poised for biggest weekly gain in 10 months

* NZ stocks up 0.5%, A2 Milk gains over 1%

By Shreya Mariam Job

April 3 (Reuters) - Australian shares gave up early gains to trade flat on Friday, as mounting fears of a deep global economic recession offset a jump in energy stocks on the back of an overnight rally in crude oil futures.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose as much as 1.8% before trading flat at 5,155.70 by 0057 GMT after Thursday’s 2% drop. The benchmark, however, was on track to post its biggest weekly gain since late 2011, rising more than 6% so far this week.

Oil prices posted their biggest daily gains on record overnight after U.S. President Donald Trump said he expected Saudi Arabia and Russia to announce major oil production cuts as the two countries signalled willingness to make a deal.

“We continue to contend that the Saudi leadership is prepared to ... orchestrate a series of deep production cuts, but only if the Russians join the agreement and the United States also scales back output,” RBC Capital Markets said in a note.

Australian energy stocks soared on the crude rally, with the energy sub-index rising as much as 10% in its best intraday gain since October 2008.

Santos Ltd jumped more than 10%, while Woodside Petroleum soared nearly 16%.

Miners also rose after Brazil’s mining regulator said it would halt operations at 25 mining dams belonging to the world’s largest iron ore producer Vale SA, raising concerns about production.

Heavyweight iron ore miner BHP Group Ltd climbed as much as 5%, while rival Rio Tinto Ltd jumped 4.3% to its highest in nearly a month. Fortescue Metals Group, the world’s fourth-largest iron ore miner, rose 8.6%.

Material stocks were poised for their biggest weekly gain in nearly 10 months.

Meanwhile, fears of a deep global economic recession loomed large, with record jobless claims in the United States for a second straight week escalating concerns over the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

These concerns sent investors to seek shelter in safe-haven assets, pushing bullion prices higher.

Gold stocks jumped as much as 4.5%, with Newcrest Mining adding 1.3% and Evolution Mining rising 2.4%.

Financials fell with the “Big Four” banks trading lower. Analyst said the top four lenders might cut dividends in the coming weeks, tracking similar moves in Europe and New Zealand, to save their capital amid virus woes.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.5%, or 49.51 points, to 9,920.07.

Shares of A2 Milk Co climbed more than 1%, while those of Genesis Energy added 3.5%. (Reporting by Shreya Mariam Job in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)

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