Australia shares end almost flat as Evergrande worries weigh on miners

A pedestrian, reflected in a window of the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX), looks at a screen showing financial data in Sydney - Reuters

AUSTRALIAN shares closed little changed on Thursday as the lifting of restrictions in Melbourne later in the night helped investor sentiment and offset worries about China Evergrande Group's potential debt default.

The benchmark index inched 0.02% higher to close at 7,415.4 points.

China Evergrande Group said its $2.6 billion stake sale to lesser rival Hopson Development Holdings had fallen through, further raising fears about offshore bond defaults from China's No. 2 property developer.

The metals and mining sector, which relies considerably on exports to China, took the biggest hit on Evergrande news, falling 0.25% despite strong iron ore and metal prices.

The country's three biggest miners BHP, Rio Tinto and Fortescue all ended the session between 0.2% and 1.3% lower.

Financials, however, remained strong and added 0.28% despite heavyweights Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Australia and New Zealand Bank ending 0.1% and 0.5% lower, respectively.

The other two of the so-called "Big Four", National Australia Bank and Westpac, added 0.2% and 0.6%, respectively.

Wealth manager Perpetual Ltd was the top gainer on the sub-index and the benchmark, rising 7.8% after reporting a jump in its assets under management.

The benchmark was also helped by engineering contractor CIMIC Group, which ended 5.9% higher to become the second-biggest gainer on the main index after posting a rise in revenue and providing a positive outlook.

Tech stocks continued their rally for a third straight day, rising 0.56% to hit a three-week high as they tracked an earnings-fuelled rally on Wall Street.

The top gainers on the index were Nearmap Ltd, which rose 2.8%, followed by Altium and Xero, which were up about 2.7% and 2.6%, respectively.

Melbourne is preparing to come out of its lockdown on Thursday night after Victoria state hit a key vaccination target, with pubs, restaurants and cafes racing to reopen their doors to fully vaccinated customers.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index reversed early losses to end 0.09% higher at 13,125.98. - Reuters
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