Australia Markets closed

Aust stocks slip as coronavirus toll rises

Derek Rose

The Australian share market has closed lower after global concerns about the coronavirus outbreak caused falls in most sectors.

After being down as many as 40 points in the morning, the S&P/ASX200 benchmark index rebounded somewhat in the afternoon to finish Monday down just 10.1 points, or 0.14 per cent, at 7,012.5.

The broader All Ordinaries index dropped 13.4 points, or 0.19 per cent, to 7,108.

"The market's off a little bit today, the US seemed to be a bit off on Friday, despite the decent payrolls report," said BetaShares chief economist David Bassanese.

He attributed the drop to fears of the Wuhan coronavirus that has now killed more than 900 people, which is more than the 2002-03 SARS outbreak.

"The market's sort of waxing and waning - on the one hand they're hopeful it's been confined, on the other they're fearful of other outbreaks," Mr Bassanese said.

The tech, mining and energy sectors suffered the worst declines, while health care and the consumer discretionary and consumer staples sectors all rose.

Biopharmaceutical giant CSL hit yet another all-time high, closing up 0.9 per cent to $322.96, having gained 17.1 per cent so far this year.

BHP and Commonwealth Bank were two of the biggest drags on the market, falling 1.0 per cent to $38.40 and 0.6 per cent to $84.32, respectively.

Boral dropped 10.7 per cent to a one-month low of $4.60 after confirmed its North American windows business inflated earnings figures by $A36.6 million over a 20-month period.

Chief executive Mike Kane apologised to shareholders and announced his retirement as the construction materials manufacturer sacked two executives in the windows division.

Electronics retailer JB Hi-Fi soared 11.5 per cent to an all-time closing high of $44.71 after again boosting its payout to shareholders after a strong Christmas season resulted in a record first-half profit.

Rail operator Aurizon gained 2.6 per cent to $5.47 after increasing its dividend by 20 per cent following a 12 per cent leap in first-half earnings.

Property firm GPT Group gained 2.8 per cent to $6.34 after boosting its full-year dividend, despite a 40 per cent drop in profit on lower property valuation gains.

Horizon Oil dropped 30 per cent to 8.4 cents after the Australian Financial Review alleged the company made a $15.4 million payment in 2011 to acquire an interest in an oil licence in Papua New Guinea.

Horizon said in a statement that it had "no actual knowledge of any wrongdoing" and then followed that up with a second statement saying it had initiated an independent investigation into the matter.

The other big banks were also lower, with ANZ dropping 0.3 per cent to $25.95, NAB down 0.5 per cent to $25.78 and Westpac down 0.2 per cent to $24.97.

Rio Tinto dropped 0.1 per cent to $98.31 and South32 fell 3.1 per cent to $2.54.

But goldminers were generally up as the price of the precious metal hovered around $US1,570 an ounce, with Newcrest up 2.2 per cent, Northern Star up 1.2 per cent and Evolution gaining 7.7 per cent ahead the release of its half-year financial results on Wednesday.

Small Sydney biotech company Biotron rocketed up 28 per cent, following last week's 56 per cent gain that came on news it was testing its compounds against the coronavirus.

Hand sanitiser company Zoono also benefited from the outbreak, gaining 35 per cent after reaching a five-year deal to supply its virus-killing products to Chinese childcare centres and hotels.

Elsewhere in the market, Telstra gained 0.8 per cent to $3.82 and Woolworths rose 0.9 per cent to hit an all-time high of $43.11.

Overall Mr Bassanese said while the market was down, growth stocks were doing better.

"People are still seeking growth rather than yield in the Australian market," he said.

The Australian dollar was buying 67.01 US cents, from 67.17 US cents on Friday.

In cryptocurrency, Bitcoins were trading for over $US10,000 for the first time since September, fetching $A14,800 on Melbourne exchange BTC Markets.

ON THE ASX:

* The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index finished up 10.1 points, or 0.14 per cent, at 7,012.5 points.

* The All Ordinaries closed up 13.4 points, or 0.19 per cent, at 7,108 points.

* At 1715 AEDT, the SPI200 futures index closed was up five points, or 0.07 per cent, at 6,950 points.

CURRENCY SNAPSHOT:

One Australian dollar buys:

* 67.01 US cents, from 67.17 US cents on Friday

* 73.58 Japanese yen, from 73.81 yen

* 61.18 euro cents, from 61.17 cents

* 51.94 British pence, from 51.90 pence

* 104.56 NZ cents, from 104.16 cents.