Australian shares pulled back from the record highs hit on Friday, weighed down by a soft lead from Wall Street, geopolitical uncertainty in the Middle East and lingering concerns over the impact of the bushfires on the economy.
The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 lost 25.3 points, or 0.4 per cent, to close at 6903.7, dragged lower by weakness across all sectors except for information technology and real estate.
“Against a background of significant unrest in the Middle East and the aftermath of the ongoing bushfire disaster at home, the market is hoisting up the white flag today,” James McGlew, executive director of corporate stockbroking at Argonaut Securities told Reuters.
Monday’s losses were led by healthcare – the strongest performing sector last week – which skidded 1.1 per cent, hit by a rally in the Australian dollar following the release of a soft US jobs report on Friday and strength in the Chinese yuan ahead of the signing of the phase one trade agreement reached between China and the United States later in the week.
After hitting record highs on Friday, CSL shares fell 1.6 per cent to $294.50.
The energy sector also finished down 1.1 per cent. Woodside Petroleum shed 1.2 per cent to $35.43, Origin Energy 1.7 per cent to $8.58, while Cooper Energy slumped 3.2 per cent to $0.60 after flagging delays to the upgrade of its Orbost Gas Processing Plant due to recent bushfire activity.
Retailers were also under pressure, coinciding with the release of data from ANZ Bank that warned card spending at retailers ahead of Christmas was particularly weak.
“Very strong Black Friday sales are likely to be behind the [result],” said ANZ’s head of Australian economics David Plank. “The bushfires and smoke haze may also have been a factor.”
Consumer staples lost 0.7 per cent as Woolworths fell 1 per cent to $37.43 while rival Coles Group slipped 1.2 per cent to $15.47. Discretionary retailers fared better, easing by a smaller 0.2 per cent.
Despite the weakness at retailers, listed buy now, pay later providers had a strong session following the release of a positive update from Zip Co, which gained 3.1 per cent to $3.64. Rival Afterpay Touch soared 4.5 per cent to $32.53, the latter helping the broader technology sector lift 0.8 per cent.
At the other end of the scoreboard, Virgin Money UK slumped 3.7 per cent to $3.38, the largest percentage decline on the benchmark.
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