SYDNEY, AAP – Falls in commodity sectors and healthcare shares were keeping the Australian market lower, following concerns about the coronavirus in Europe.
The S&P/ASX200 benchmark index was lower by 22.1 points, or 0.32 per cent, to 6723.8 at 1200 AEDT on Friday.
The All Ordinaries was lower by 24 points, or 0.34 per cent, at 6979.6.
The energy sector had the biggest fall, 1.61 per cent, after oil prices plunged for a fifth day in a row on worries about rising COVID-19 cases in Europe.
Lockdowns in parts of France, Italy and Poland added to concerns about blood clots from the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The EU’s drug watchdog has since said it is convinced the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks.
The materials sector dropped 0.93 per cent although the iron ore price was steady.
Another sizeable sector, healthcare, shed 0.69 per cent.
Financials improved by 0.23 per cent.
Australia’s retail turnover fell 1.1 per cent in February as COVID-19 restrictions hit hard in Victoria and Western Australia
Australian Bureau of Statistics preliminary figures showed turnover was up 8.7 per cent when compared to February 2020.
In the US earlier, stocks plunged after France’s prime minister imposed a month-long lockdown on Paris and several other regions due to the health crisis.
The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasuries crossed 1.75 per cent to hit a 14-month high a day after the Fed projected the strongest growth in nearly 40 years as the COVID-19 crisis winds down.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.46 per cent to end at 32,862.3 points, while the S&P 500 lost 1.48 per cent to 3,915.47. The Nasdaq Composite dropped 3.02 per cent to 13,116.17.
On the ASX, gold miner Newcrest is assessing how a travel ban may affect operations at its mine at Lihir in Papua New Guinea.
The Australian government has suspended travel between the two countries for two weeks due to COVID-19 spreading through the Pacific Island nation.
The mine is currently not operating due to planned maintenance, but is restarting soon.
Newcrest said gold production had not been affected by the travel suspension.
The miner said a small number of employees had contracted the coronavirus and were in quarantine.
Shares were down 2.05 per cent to $24.54.
Fortescue has raised $US1.5 billion from bonds.
The bonds had an interest rate of 4.375 per cent and mature in 2031.
The miner says it will use the funds to help repay its $US750 million 2022 bonds, as well as other purposes which may include repaying debt.
Shares were down 0.29 per cent to $20.24.
Among other miners, BHP shed 1.24 per cent to $45.12 and Rio Tinto declined by 0.92 per cent to $109.78.
Origin Energy has agreed to Blue Energy supplying 300 petajoules of gas over 10 years.
Blue will provide the gas from a site in the Northern Territory to an Origin site in Wallumbilla, Queensland.
Origin shares were down 1.29 per cent to $4.57, while Blue shares gained 21 per cent to nine cents.
In banking, ANZ and Westpac were best of the big four. Both were up 0.69 per cent.
The Australian dollar was buying 77.43 US cents at 1200 AEDT, lower from 78.26 US cents at Thursday’s close.