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ASX plunges again, hits 10-month low

Derek Rose

The Australian share market has suffered its second-worst day of the year as equities were once again routed on fears of the coronavirus.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 closed Friday down 179.5 points, or 2.8 per cent, at 6,216.2, its lowest level since May 14.

The broader All Ordinaries index finished down 184.9 points, or 2.86 per cent, to 6,287.5, with every sector in the red as global coronavirus cases neared 100,000.

"A pretty tough day," said CommSec market analyst James Tao.

"Volatility remains the key theme for the markets. Investors are really trying to wrestle with the stimulus packages offered by central banks and the economic impact of the coronavirus."

For the week the ASX lost 3.5 per cent, its second-worst loss since October 2018 - exceeded only by last week's mammoth 9.8 per cent plunge.

Since hitting an intraday high of 7,197.2 on February 20, the ASX200 has lost 13.6 per cent of its value in just 11 and a half days of turbulent trading, and is down 7.0 per cent on the year.

The banking and tech sectors were the worst hit on Friday, both falling 4.2 per cent as three of Australia's four major banks sank to their lowest levels since 2012.

NAB dropped 5.5 per cent to $22, Westpac fell 4.0 per cent to $21.35, and ANZ dropped 4.7 per cent to $22.14.

Commonwealth - which is seen to be less affected by the Reserve Bank's cut to the cash rate - fell 3.7 per cent to $73.93, its lowest level since May 2019.

Still, Commonwealth Bank has lost its place as Australia's largest company by ASX-listed market capitalisation after its stock closed down 9.6 per cent on the week.

As of Friday's close, CBA has a market cap of $135.8 billion, compared to CSL's $143.8 billion, although BHP has a value of around $160 billion including the value of its shares on the London Stock Exchange.

In the tech sector, Xero dropped 5.5 per cent, Afterpay fell 4.2 per cent and Altium declined 3.8 per cent.

Travel stocks were whacked again, with Qantas falling 8.1 per cent to a nearly three-year low of $4.66, Virgin Australia dropping 17.1 per cent to an all-time low of 8.7 cents and Flight Centre down 7.1 per cent to a seven-year low of $26.50.

Ardent Leisure dropped 14.2 per cent to 67 cents, its lowest level since 2003, while Myer fell 16.7 per cent to an all-time low of 27.5 cents and Adairs dropped 11.4 per cent to a three-month low of $1.94.

Woolworths was a rare gainer, climbing 0.7 per cent to $38 as nervous Australians stockpiled staples such as toilet paper.

Goldminers also gained as the price of the precious metal flirted with $US1,680 an ounce, close to a seven-year high.

Saracen Mineral rose 5.9 per cent, Gold Road gained 5.1 per cent, and Regis Resources climbed 4.3 per cent.

Elsewhere in the mining sector, BHP dropped 3.7 per cent to a more than one-year low of $32.19, Rio Tinto was down 2.5 per cent to a six-month low of $86.25, and Fortescue Metals declined 4.5 per cent to $9.60.

The Aussie dollar meanwhile was buying 65.96 US cents, down from 66.28 US cents as the market closed on Thursday.

ON THE ASX:

* The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index finished Friday down 179.5 points, or 2.81 per cent, at 6,216.2 points

* The All Ordinaries closed down 184.9 points, or 2.86 per cent, at 6,287.5 points

* The SPI200 futures index closed down 201 points, or 3.14 per cent, at 6,206 points

CURRENCY SNAPSHOT:

One Australian dollar buys:

* 65.96 US cents, from 66.28 US cents on Thursday

* 69.83 Japanese yen, from 71.13 yen

* 58.73 euro cents, from 59.52 cents

* 50.93 British pence, from 51.46 pence

* 104.45 NZ cents, from 105.07 cents