August 6, 2019 / 7:08 AM / 4 months ago

Australian shares extend losses to 5th day as Sino-U.S. trade row escalates

* Aussie benchmark down 2.4%, banks weigh most

* Mining units trim losses, gold erases gains

* NZ rate decision on Wednesday, with 25bps cut all but inked (Updates to close)

August 6 (Reuters) - Australian shares fell more than 2% on Tuesday, extending losses to a fifth straight session, after Washington branded Beijing a currency manipulator, escalating a bruising trade dispute that is increasingly weighing on global demand and financial markets.

The S&P/ASX 200 index ended down 2.4% or 162.2 points at 6,478.1.

It has lost nearly 5% since last Thursday when U.S. President Donald Trump said the U.S. would slap 10% tariffs on $300 billion of goods from China, Australia’s top trade partner.

Financial stocks, which have the heaviest weighting in the index, collectively lost 2.4% and the “big four” banks declined between 1.7% and 2.6%.

Export-reliant healthcare firms such as CSL Ltd also ended lower, as the local currency firmed against the greenback after Australia’s central bank left interest rates unchanged at 1.0% as expected.

But China’s yuan steadied after sharp losses on Monday, offering markets some relief.

Data early in the day showed Australia’s trade surplus swelled to an all-time high in June despite growing U.S. tariff pressure on China.

The jump in exports was attributed partly to high prices for iron ore - the country’s single biggest earner.

Global miners BHP Group and Rio Tinto, both with significant exposure to iron ore, pared earlier losses to finish 0.8% and 0.1% lower, respectively.

Safe-haven gold stocks such as Newcrest Mining came off eight-year highs to close 0.8% lower.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 1.7% to 10,587.17. Vista Group International, which develops software for the film industry, was the biggest decliner.

The country’s central bank will review interest rates on Wednesday, with a 25 basis point cut all but confirmed, in line with global policy easing to fight slowing growth in the face of intensifying trade disputes.

Reporting by Devika Syamnath in Bengaluru; Editing by Kim Coghill

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