December 21, 2018 / 1:35 AM / 3 months ago

Australian, NZ shares slip on global gloom; energy stocks tumble

* Aussie shares hit 2-year low on growth woes

* Gold stocks surge on safety-bid

* Healthscope shares jump on M&A activity

By Nikhil Nainan

Dec 21 (Reuters) - Australian shares edged down on Friday to yet another two-year low, snapping back from brief opening gains, as global equities extended a week-long slide on worries over a cocktail of negative factors, including cooling global growth and plunging oil prices.

That left markets in a gloomy mood heading into the Christmas break, with the S&P/ASX 200 index poised for a fourth straight month of losses as the year-end approaches.

The index was off 0.2 percent, or 9.9 points to 5,495.9 by 0046 GMT, having risen 0.7 percent in early deals.

Oil suffered another rout overnight, off 5 percent to their lowest level in more than a year and sent energy stocks down 0.7 percent.

Among the biggest losers were Beach Energy and Santos, down 1.5 percent and 0.8 percent, respectively.

However, Aussie gold stocks jumped 3.3 percent, as the price of gold benefited on safe-haven bids after the U.S. Federal Reserve largely retained its plans to tighten policy next year despite heightening economic risks.

Evolution Mining rose 3.4 percent, while Newcrest Mining climbed as much as 3.6 percent to their highest level since August.

“When we get a surprising start (gains) like we’ve had today its harder to predict how the session will play out but I think this would have caught a lot of people by surprise, if anything, it might start a bit of a scramble,” said Michael McCarthy, chief strategist at CMC Markets and Stockbroking.

On the M&A front, hospital operator Healthscope Ltd , a hot takeover target, said its preferred bidder Brookfield Asset Management has indicated its readiness to proceed with its sweetened offer based on the due diligence materials received so far.

It also said another bidder - the consortium of Australian private equity firm BGH Capital and partners - had indicated it is able to commence due diligence for their bid made in October.

The possibility of a bidding war sent shares of Healthscope soaring as much as 6.6 percent for its best one-day gain in over one-month.

Mining stocks were up, with top miner BHP Group rising 2 percent.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.9 percent or 74.72 points to 8,697.47, and is set for a third straight week of declines.

Pushpay Holdings was the top loser, falling 3.7 percent, while Air New Zealand fell 2.2 percent.

For more individual stocks activity click on (Reporting by Nikhil Kurian Nainan in Bengaluru Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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