July 16, 2020 / 6:35 AM / 21 days ago

Australia shares slip; unemployment at 22-year high, virus woes hit sentiment

* Gold stocks down as bullion prices slip

* Energy stocks fall on lower oil prices

* NZ lower (Updates to close)

By Nikhil Subba

July 16 (Reuters) - Australian shares ended lower on Thursday, after the country’s unemployment rate hit a 22-year peak and rising coronavirus cases in some states raised a likelihood of harsher curbs, reminding investors of the impending economic pain.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.7% to 6010.90 at the close of trade. The benchmark rose 1.9% on Wednesday.

Australia’s unemployment rate shot up to 7.4% in June, from 7.1% in May, and the highest since November 1998, according to figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, as workers re-entering the workforce were unable to find full-time jobs.

“The nationwide (employment) recovery is likely to be slower, as consumer and business confidence is undermined, demand is more fragile and businesses more cautious about hiring,” Catherine Birch, a senior economist at ANZ, said in a note.

“Melbourne workers will feel the worst of it, regional Victoria will also be affected.”

Meanwhile, harsher restrictions are set to be imposed in Australia’s most populous states, New South Wales and Victoria, if the COVID-19 outbreak is not quickly brought under control.

Australian officials reported 327 new infections on Thursday, a surge that was almost entirely in the state of Victoria, bringing the national tally to nearly 11,000 cases.

Gold stocks fell 1.6% as bullion prices slipped. Dacian Gold Ltd, closed down 6.1%, while Emerald Resources NL fell 4.9%

Gold fell 0.15% to $1,807.20.

The broader metals and mining index fell 0.8% with heavyweights BHP Group and Rio Tinto both falling around 1%.

Healthcare stocks fell 1.5% lower, weighed by industry behemoth CSL’s 2% skid.

Energy stocks fell 0.9​% as oil prices slipped. Santos fell 2.3%, while Viva Energy Group Ltd shed 2.3%.

In New Zealand, the S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.9% to 11,505.06.

Top losers on the benchmark were Pushpay Holdings down 3.9% and A2 Milk Co down 4.5%. (Reporting by Nikhil Subba in Bengaluru; Editing by Rashmi Aich)

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