March 20, 2020 / 7:08 AM / 20 days ago

Australian shares mark worst week since 2008

* ASX marks worst week since Oct. 10, 2008

* Financials boost benchmark

* Govt. measures will limit economic damage to some extent - ANZ (Updates to close)

By Nikhil Subba

March 20 (Reuters) - Australia’s benchmark stock index marked its worst week since the 2008 global financial crisis, but settled higher on Friday as hopes of a second round of government stimulus offered a measure of relief to markets pummelled by coronavirus fears.

The S&P/ASX 200 index finished 0.7% higher at 4,816.60, though it sank 13% for the week, with most of that loss stemming from a massive plunge on Monday that sent the benchmark to its lowest level since 1987.

The financial sub-index dropped 13.7% this week, its worst since October 2008, though the sector closed 3.6% higher for the day, with three of the “Big Four” lenders finishing firmly in positive territory.

The government is likely to unveil a second stimulus package within days, sources familiar with the plan told Reuters, which comes at the heels of a fresh cash rate cut and a quantitative easing programme by the central bank on Thursday.

Australian banks also joined the rescue effort, saying they would defer loan repayments for six months for small businesses impacted by the coronavirus in a A$100 billion ($57.34 billion) relief package.

These measures “will limit the economic damage to some extent and provide a better starting point for when the pandemic passes,” ANZ analysts said in a note, while warning that the measures will not be enough to prevent a contraction in the economy in the second quarter.

A Reuters poll showed economists believe the global economy is already in a recession as the hit to activity from the coronavirus pandemic has become more widespread.

Australia’s energy index marked its worst week since the 2008 global recession, though it advanced 4.5% on Friday as oil prices rose after U.S. President Donald Trump hinted he may intervene in the price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Sector heavyweight Santos Ltd climbed 10.9% at close, while Oil Search finished 15.3% higher.

Bucking the trend, healthcare stocks tumbled 5.3%, dragged lower by industry behemoth CSL’s 4.6% decline and Ramsay Health Care’s 7.2% drop.

Meanwhile, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index pared earlier losses to close nearly 1% higher at 9,196.42.

Dairy company Synlait Milk closed up 15.9%, while rubber products maker Skellerup Holdings gained 12.3%.

Reporting by Nikhil Subba in Bengaluru; Editing by Devika Syamnath

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