Gold miners drag down Australian shares; NZ falls 2%

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Jan 11 (Reuters) - Australian shares settled lower on Monday as cases of highly transmissible new COVID-19 variants dimmed hopes for a quick economic recovery, with gold miners leading the retreat on bullion sell-offs.

While New South Wales eased lockdown measures introduced to contain an outbreak in its northern coastal suburbs, health officials said over the weekend that they were on high alert after cases of the new COVID-19 variants discovered in Britain and South Africa were identified in the country. read more

"Although there is light at the end of the tunnel, the end of the tunnel is still some way away," said Henry Jennings, a senior analyst at Marcus Today Financial Newsletter.

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"Given our experiences with lockdowns coming in at very short notice and borders closing, it does make it very hard for businesses to recover in a proper, orderly fashion."

The S&P/ASX 200 index (.AXJO) fell 0.9% to 6,697.2, led by a 4.3% drop in gold stocks (.AXGD) as bullion prices slumped to a near six-week low on a firmer U.S. dollar and higher Treasury yields. GOL/

Newcrest Mining (NCM.AX) gave up 3.6% and AngloGold Ashanti eased 4.3% to be the biggest drags on the sub-index.

The weakness in gold stocks pressured miners (.AXMM), which declined 1.3%. Weaker Chinese steel futures on growing inventories and easing demand also hurt heavyweight miners. IRONORE/

The healthcare sub-index (.AXHJ) settled 1.2% lower, with industry giant CSL Ltd (CSL.AX) shedding 1.5% and Sonic Healthcare (SHL.AX) losing 1.1%.

Woodside Petroleum (WPL.AX) and Santos (STO.AX) helped the energy sub-index (.AXEJ) rise 0.7% to close at its highest since March 2020.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index (.NZ50) fell 2% to 13,290.09 in its worst session since July 9.

The country's central bank said it was responding to a breach of one of its data systems after a third-party file-sharing service it uses to share and store some sensitive information was illegally accessed. read more

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Reporting by Arpit Nayak in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu

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