(Updates to close)
By Soumyajit Saha
Feb 10 (Reuters) - Australian shares ended slightly lower on Monday as investors waited to assess the financial impact of the coronavirus outbreak in China on corporate earnings, set to begin on Tuesday.
The S&P/ASX 200 index closed 0.1% lower on Monday.
Index heavyweights Commonwealth Bank of Australia, healthcare giant CSL Ltd and investment manager Maquarie Group will report earnings this week.
Meanwhile, the death toll from the virus outbreak in mainland China - Australia’s largest trading partner - rose to 908 as of Sunday even as workers started trickling back to offices and factories.
“There is a fair amount of minerals and services that go into China from Australia, so everything is on hold,” said Mathan Somasundaram, market portfolio strategist at Blue Ocean Equities.
“People are reducing their market exposure in the short term to wait and see what happens in the reporting season.”
Losses in the financial sector weighed on the benchmark index, with the “big four” banks closing lower. The top lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia fell 0.6%.
Miners also added to the losses, with BHP Group and Fortescue Metals Group ending 0.9% and 0.4% down.
Declining oil prices due to oversupply fears hurt energy stocks, with explorers Woodside Petroleum and Oil Search losing 1.2% and 0.9%, respectively.
Safe haven gold stocks gained over 2% as the market’s uncertainty encouraged risk aversion. Newcrest Mining and Northern Star Resources advanced 2.3% and 1.3%, respectively.
Electronics retailer JB Hi-Fi Ltd was the top gainer on the Australian benchmark index after reporting strong first-half results and raising its annual earnings forecast.
New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index ended 0.5% lower to finish the session at 11,702.59.
Diary company Synlait Milk lost 2.7%, while builder Fletcher Building Ltd was down 2.4%. (Reporting by Soumyajit Saha in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur)