ASX closes under 7,000 as virus spreads

Australian shares have had their worst day of 2020 amid fears that the spread of the deadly coronavirus will infect global economic growth.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index finished on Tuesday down 96 points, or 1.35 per cent, at 6,994.5 after global markets sank on Monday as the death toll from the virus rose.

Over 100 people have died since it broke out in the landlocked Hubei province of China, where 2,714 cases have been recorded.

The broader All Ordinaries index finished 104.8 points, or 1.45 per cent, lower at 7,098.4.

"I'd say this is a bit of fear selling on the back of the virus intensifying," said Bell Direct market analyst Jessica Amir.

"That's bound to happen when the market's had a big run."

Even with the sell-off the ASX200 is still up 4.6 per cent for the month, putting it on pace for its best month since February 2019, with three trading days left.

But the drop saw the index closing below the psychologically important 7,000 mark for the first time since January 15, when it also finished at 6,994.

Every sector was down except for health care, with the energy sector the worst hit, falling 2.9 per cent as the price of Brent crude dropped under $US60 a barrel for the first time since late October.

Woodside Petroleum dropped 2.4 per cent, Santos was down 2.3 per cent and Oil Search fell 7.5 per cent after announcing that its full-year operating costs would be slightly above prior guidance.

Mining shares were the second-biggest losers, collectively falling 2.3 per cent as commodity prices dropped.

BHP fell 3.3 per cent to $39.10, Rio Tinto dropped 3.1 per cent to $99.99 and Fortescue Metals plunged 7.3 per cent to $11.57.

Goldminers gained however as the price of the precious metal climbed to a two-week high of just under $US1,580.

Northern Star gained 3.1 per cent, Evolution rose 2.4 per cent and Saracen Minerals was up 3.5 per cent after reporting record quarterly gold production of 120,127 ounces.

The big banks were all down with Commonwealth falling 1.1 per cent to $84.02, ANZ dropping 1.7 per cent to $25.46, NAB dipping 0.7 per cent to $25.61 and Westpac drooping 0.8 per cent to $25.

Macquarie Group dropped 2.0 per cent to $143.01.

The health care sector gained 0.4 per cent, buoyed by CSL which gained 0.6 per cent to $312.66, another all-time closing high for the blood products and flu vaccine maker.

Webjet plunged 13.9 per cent to $12.37 after a rating downgrade from Morgan Stanley, which predicted Google's new travel functionality would eat into its business.

Other travel shares were down as well, with Qantas dropping 5.2 per cent, Air new Zealand falling 3.1 per cent and Flight Centre down 4.1 per cent.

Hand and surface sanitizer company Zoono gained 15.3 per cent over the coronavirus fears, while Sydney biotech Biotron Limited was up 17 per cent on the hopes its anti-HIV drug candidate BIT225 could prove effective against the coronavirus.

The Australian dollar was buying 67.60 US cents, down from 68.46 US cents at the market close on Friday.

ON THE ASX:

* The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index finished down 96 points, or 1.35 per cent, at 6,994.5 points.

* The All Ordinaries was closed down 104.8 points, or 1.45 per cent, at 7,098.4 points.

* At 1715 AEDT the SPI200 futures index was up nine points, or 0.13 per cent, at 6,948 points.

CURRENCY SNAPSHOT AT 1630 AEDT:

One Australian dollar buys:

* 67.59 US cents, from 68.46 US cents on Friday

* 73.70 Japanese yen, from 74.99 yen

* 61.31 euro cents, from 61.96 cents

* 51.80 British pence, from 52.16 pence

* 103.23 NZ cents, from 103.49 cents

Austrlaian Associated PressBack to Breaking News

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