March 13, 2020 / 1:54 AM / 18 days ago

Australian shares set for record weekly drop as virus panic worsens

March 13 (Reuters) - Australian shares dropped 7% on Friday, extending a sell-off that has put them on track for their biggest weekly drop ever as the rapidly-spreading coronavirus fanned fears of a global recession.

The S&P/ASX 200 index declined 7.1% or 374.9 points to 4,929.70 by 0059 GMT. The benchmark shed 7.4% on Thursday in its biggest plunge since the 2008 global financial crisis.

At the session low, the benchmark has slid more than 31% from a record high it hit in February.

On Thursday, global markets suffered a meltdown as alarm over the virus intensified, and governments from Ireland to Italy revealed new steps to contain its spread.

“Today is very much a black Friday,” said James Tao, market analyst at CommSec.

Following U.S. President Donald Trump’s Europe travel ban, the negative news related to coronavirus are still pouring in and that is putting more fear into the markets, Tao said.

Being a large exporter, with a great exposure to China, Australian markets are more vulnerable in these circumstances, added Tao.

The country’s stock exchange on Friday said in a tweet it does not have circuit breakers as it could stoke volatility. However, individual stocks could be paused for two minutes if there are large and sudden price movements, it added.

Financials, the heaviest constituent on the Australian benchmark, slumped 9.4% and were on track for a 22.5% weekly slump.

Among the big four lenders, Westpac Banking Corp and National Australia Bank tumbled more than 11%.

Westpac said it was hit by a class-action lawsuit over damages relating to disclosure issues with its financial crime monitoring and a recent money-laundering scandal.

Mining sector slid 5.7%, with global miners BHP Group Ltd and Rio Tinto dropping as much as 8.7% and 6%, respectively.

With oil prices sliding 7%, energy stocks were also battered. Heavyweight Woodside Petroleum Ltd lost up to 8.3% and gas firm Santos gave up over 9%.

Gold stocks plunged as much 13.6% to their lowest in over one year as bullion prices declined overnight.

Northern Star Resources dropped 16.4% and Newcrest Mining shed 13.7%.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index tumbled a record 7.4% to 9,568.25. The benchmark was also on track for its worst week ever.

Tourism Holdings Ltd was the top percentage loser, diving up to 18.8% to its lowest in over four years and Auckland International Airport lost 10.8% after the duo flagged a bleak outlook due to the impact of COVID-19. (Reporting by A K Pranav in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V)

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