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Australian shares fall as financials weigh; benchmark set for weekly drop

Australian shares edged lower on Friday and were on track to post their first weekly loss in four, as weakness in heavyweight financials outweighed gains in gold and tech stocks.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.3% to 7,280.6 by 0101 GMT. For the week so far, the benchmark index is down nearly 0.2%.

In other markets, Japan’s Nikkei slipped 0.12% and S&P 500 E-minis futures fell 0.03%.

Financial stocks, down 1.03%, weighed on the benchmark the most. The sub-index was down about 2.2% for the week. Challenger Ltd led losses, down 2.36%, followed by wealth manager AMP Ltd, which lost 2.07%.

The “Big Four” banks declined between 1% and 1.6%.

The energy index fell 0.62?% despite oil prices hovering at two-year highs. The biggest percentage loser was fuel retailer Ampol Ltd, which shed 1.15%.

Bucking the sombre mood, tech stocks rose 2.04% led by Appen, which was up 4.88%. Market darling Afterpay jumped as much as 4.9% to mark its highest levels in a month.

Investors shrugged off cues from Wall Street which rose after US inflation data appeared to support the Federal Reserve’s assertion that the current wave of heightened inflation will be temporary.

Back in Australia, gold stocks rallied 2.2%, leading gains on the benchmark as bullion prices nudged up after US inflation data. Sector heavyweight Newcrest Mining climbed up to 1.6%.

Embattled casino operator Crown Resorts was among biggest losers on the benchmark, down as much as 3%, after the Victoria state extended a timeline and funding for an inquiry into its operations, increasing the time and level of regulatory scrutiny.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.57% to 12,589.5. It was on track for its second straight weekly gain.

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