March 2, 2020 / 6:16 AM / a month ago

Australia shares claw back losses on stimulus hopes; NZ ends lower

* Australia benchmark posts 7th straight loss

* RBA expected to cut rates by 25bps on Tuesday - Westpac

* “Big Four” banks lose between 1.6%-2.5%

* NZ benchmark closes lowest in over three months (Updates to close)

By Sameer Manekar

March 2 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed at a nine-month low on Monday, but well off their session lows, amid rising expectations of central bank stimulus to help weather the economic fallout of the coronavirus outbreak.

The country’s financial regulators were in an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the economy, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The meeting comes as markets now expect the Reserve Bank of Australia to cut its cash rate as early as Tuesday at its scheduled monthly review.

The S&P/ASX 200 index ended 0.8% lower at 6,391.50, posting its seventh consecutive session of losses. The index tumbled as much as 3% earlier in the session, dented by a sharp contraction in Chinese factory activity and the rapid spread of the virus.

Hopes of a coordinated global monetary policy response also helped Asian shares steady from early losses on Monday, with MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan advanced 0.4%, turning around from a loss of about 0.3% earlier in the day.

Further monetary policy easing by central banks around the world looks increasingly likely, “as both a confidence-boosting measure and to counter the still-uncertain impact on demand”, said Michael Gordon, a senior economist at Westpac.

Westpac expects a 25 basis points cut from the Reserve Bank of Australia on Tuesday and a 50bps cut from the U.S. Federal Reserve after its meeting in mid-March.

The heavyweight financial sector led the declines, with all the “Big Four” banks shedding between 1.6% and 2.5%.

Top lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia finished 1.6% lower in its sixth consecutive session of losses, while second-largest bank Westpac Banking Corp declined 1.9%.

The mining sub-index ended 0.9% lower. Fortescue Metals Group posted its biggest intraday fall in nearly four years, down 9%, as the iron ore-focused miner traded ex-dividend.

The energy sector rebounded from a nearly 3% loss to end 1.1% higher, as oil prices rose on expected production cut from OPEC and stimulus hopes from central banks.

Heavyweights Woodside Petroleum and Santos Ltd added 1.5% and 2.9%, respectively.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index lost 1.4% to 11,103.43, its lowest close in over three months.

Auckland International Airport declined 3.6% to finish at its lowest in nearly a year, while the NZ-listed shares of Westpac Banking Corp shed 2.1%. (Reporting by Sameer Manekar in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)

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