December 31, 2019 / 1:52 AM / 20 days ago

Australia shares slump but on track for best year since 2009; NZ down

* Benchmark set to post best annual performance in a decade

* Gold stocks rise on stronger bullion prices

* Tech stocks hit over 2-week low

By Nikhil Subba

Dec 31 (Reuters) - Australian shares tracked Wall Street to fall nearly 2% in the last trading session of the year, but were on course for their biggest annual gain in a decade.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 1.62% to 6,694.60 by 0148 GMT in thin year-end trading, after closing 0.3% lower on Monday. It had risen 20.5% this year as of last close, its best annual performance since 2009.

“We saw stocks under pressure on the back of some profit taking in the United States with tech shares pacing losses ... so that has kind of carried into the Australian session today,” said Ryan Felsman, senior economist at CommSec.

Wall Street’s major stock indexes marked their biggest one-day percentage declines in about four weeks on Monday, as investors booked profits from gains made this month after the United States and China reached a trade deal.

Australian markets will close early on Tuesday and will resume trade on Thursday, Jan.2.

Technology stocks declined as much as 2.5%, touching an over two-week low. Software maker TechnologyOne was the biggest loser on the benchmark.

Mining stocks fell as much as 0.6% as lower iron prices hurt its heavyweight components. However, the sub-index is up about 23% this year, registering itself as the biggest driver to the benchmark’s rise to a 10-year peak.

Iron ore has been a major theme in 2019 as strength in prices of the steelmaking raw material influenced most of the gains in the mining sector this year.

The heavyweight financial sector fell as much as about 1%, with all of the ‘big four’ banks trading in the red.

Through the year, Australian banks have been mired in constant allegations of wrongdoing, with the National Australia Bank accused of charging customers unnecessary fees and Westpac Banking Corp sued by regulators for money laundering.

Banks’ margins were hit by historically low interest rates and large remediation costs in 2019. Nevertheless, the high-profile sector, which comprises some of the largest companies in the country, rose nearly 9% on a 12-month basis, its strongest since 2013.

Gold stocks rose nearly 2% as global economic growth concerns propped up bullion prices.

New Zealand’s S&P/NZX 50 index closed early on Tuesday, finishing 0.6% lower at 11,491.90. The benchmark clocked gains of 31.2% for this year, its best ever.

Top losers on the New Zealand benchmark were Ryman Healthcare and Sky Network Television, which shed 5.1% and 2.7%, respectively. (Reporting by Nikhil Subba in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V)

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