Australia shares set to end week firmer as earnings offset virus scare

Australian shares inched up on Friday and were set to end the week over a percent higher, as favourable reception of major corporate earnings eclipsed underlying worries over a mounting coronavirus death toll and infections in China.

The S&P/ASX 200 index edged up 0.06% at 7,107.60, as of 0020 GMT, and was on track to post its biggest weekly gain in a month.

Top lender Commonwealth Bank of Australia has gained over 6% over the week so far, and is set to post its biggest weekly rise since last May after posting a better-than-expected cash earnings for the half year.

Benchmark heavyweight financials stocks are set for a 3% weekly gain, with National Australia Bank rising up to 2.1%, and is set to close the week 4.4% firmer.

At its earnings briefing on Thursday, the lender said it is considering a fresh share sale and will revamp its strategy.

“It has been a very good week for the Australian equities, particularly the financial sector … Today, the market is just consolidating its gains over the week around these levels,” James McGlew, executive director of corporate stockbroking at Argonaut said.

A jump in coronavirus cases capped further gains, with a further 4,823 cases being detected in Hubei, the epicentre of the outbreak, taking the total in the province to 51,986.

Among the decliners, mining sector slipped up to 0.4%, with BHP Group Ltd and South32 Ltd dropping 0.3% and 1.4%, respectively.

The energy sub-index slipped almost a percent and was set to post its fifth consecutive weekly loss.

FAR Ltd plunged 8.8%, hitting an over six-year low, after a tribunal ruled that the Africa-focused oil explorer did not have a pre-emptive right on ConocoPhillips’ sale of its stake in a Senegal oil and gas field to Woodside Petroleum .

Heavyweights Santos Ltd and Woodside Petroleum Ltd lost 1.7% and 1.6%, respectively..

Tracking overnight losses on Wall Street, the IT firms fell over 1%. The Nasdaq Composite dropped 0.14%.

Accounting software maker Xero Ltd and buy-now-pay-later firm Afterpay Ltd declined 1.6% and 1.3%, respectively.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index slipped about 0.2% to 11,854.62, but was on track to finish a second consecutive week in the positive territory.

Among the top decliners, Auckland International Airport Ltd slipped 0.7%, set for its worst weekly fall since mid-November, while Ryman Healthcare Ltd lost up to 1.1%. – Reuters