March 23, 2020 / 2:05 AM / 6 days ago

REFILE-Australia, NZ shares pounded as widespread closures fuel recession fears

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* Australian shares slump to their lowest since Nov. 2012

* NZ set for worst day ever on lockdown move

By Pranav A K

March 23 (Reuters) - Australian shares slumped more than 8% on Monday in thin volumes as new government stimulus against a coronavirus-induced slowdown did little to soothe recession fears deepened by strict new measures to contain the outbreak.

New Zealand’s benchmark index dove more than 10% and was on course for its worst session ever after the country announced a move to enter lockdown over the next 48 hours.

Australia on Sunday ordered pubs, cinemas, churches and casinos to shut their doors, heightening the economic burden facing companies and tempering optimism around a fresh A$66.4 billion ($38.50 billion) pledged by the government to combat the pandemic.

The S&P/ASX 200 index slumped 8.5% to lows not seen since 2012, before recovering slightly to trade 6.1% lower by 0033 GMT. The benchmark closed 0.7% higher on Friday.

“Volumes on our desk are very light. Several large cash holders are considering substantial purchases but are not sure of timing, even though they see good value in many stocks,” Doug Symes, a senior client adviser at Novus Capital said.

The country’s “Big Four” banks hit multi-year lows, falling between 10.8% and 15.7%. National Australia Bank touched its lowest level since 1996.

“It (stimulus package) will make an important difference, but will not offset the economic consequences of the pandemic,” ANZ analysts wrote in a note to clients.

“We maintain expectations of a mid-2020 recession. The risk is that it could be deeper and longer than currently anticipated as shutdowns and border closures push economic growth down another notch,” the ANZ Research analysts added.

Australian energy stocks dropped to a more than 16-year low as sweeping worldwide bans on travel crushed demand for fuel.

Santos Ltd slumped nearly 9%, while top oil and gas producer Woodside Petroleum dropped 6.4%

Buy-now-pay-later firm Afterpay Ltd crashed 31.4%, pushing the technology index down 6.2% to a near two-year low.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index dropped 10.4%, or 963.74 points, to 8,232.6.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday the country will move into its highest alert level, with all-non-essential services, schools and offices to be shut over the next 48 hours.

Meanwhile, the central bank said it would start buying up to NZ$30 billion worth of government bonds to help soothe markets.

SkyCity Entertainment plummeted 23% to its lowest in more two decades after saying it would shut its casino in Adelaide in line with an Australian government order. (Reporting by A K Pranav in Bengaluru; Editing by Devika Syamnath)

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