January 31, 2020 / 6:29 AM / 19 days ago

Australia, NZ shares helped by China PMI; virus anxiety caps gains

* Australian benchmark down 1% this week

* Energy stocks gain on higher oil prices

* Travel stocks help NZ rise (Updates to close)

By Nikhil Subba

Jan 31 (Reuters) - Australian shares eked out gains on Friday as monthly data from China showed signs of stabilisation, although worries over the rapidly-spreading coronavirus capped gains and dragged the benchmark 1% lower for the week.

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed up 0.1% at 7,017.20. It gained about 5% in January, its biggest since February 2019.

Official data on Friday showed growth in China’s services sector activity quickened in January, rising to 54.1 from 53.5 in December, while factory activity hit the neutral 50-point mark, which was in line with expectations of a Reuters poll.

Beijing has been counting on a strong services sector growth to counter prolonged weakness in manufacturing, which has been weighed by weak demand.

“China’s data dump has given us a leg-up in risk as well, reminding us that up until the virus gripped markets, China’s improving economics were at the heart of the global economic improvement,” Chris Weston, head of research at Pepperstone said.

The virus has killed 213 people in China and has globally infected more individuals than during the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic, prompting the World Health Organisation (WHO) to declare it a global health emergency.

Australia’s energy sector ended up 0.4% as oil prices jumped after the WHO emphasised on the graveness of the outbreak but did not call for restrictions on trade and travel.

Oil and gas explorer Beach Energy climbed 1.1% to close at a one-week high, while Santos finished up about 1%.

The healthcare sub-index advanced 0.7%, driven by Avita Medical, which rose about 5.5%, and ASX-listed Resmed Inc, which climbed 3%, after each reported strong quarterly results.

Gold stocks declined 1.7% after bullion prices inched lower as survey data from China abated investor worries.

Heavyweight financial stocks slipped 0.2% as all the Big Four banks ended lower. In January, the sector gained 4.7% as expectations of steady interest rates in the short-term grew.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index closed up 0.4% at 11,665.65, rising nearly 2% in January.

Tourism Holdings climbed 4.6%, while Air New Zealand gained 2.2% at close. (Reporting by Nikhil Subba in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V)

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