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A four-day winning streak for Australian shares ended on Tuesday, as investors joined those in other markets shifting to gold and bonds due to jitters on global stability and growth.
Even defensive shares such as healthcare ones slipped, though market losses were capped by a recovery among miners.
The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.3 per cent to 6,568.5 at the close.
"Markets are continuing to be fearful of escalation tensions in Hong Kong and trade wars with China," said Michael Gable, managing director of Fairmont Equities in Sydney.
"In the short term, you don't want to be buying anything," he added, but said he still favours equities over bonds.
Biotechnology company CSL Ltd, a heavyweight stock on the benchmark, closed 1.5 per cent lower.
Elsewhere in the sector, Cochlear dropped 3.4 per cent and Mayne Pharma Group fell 2.1 per cent.
The financial index was also lower, down 0.5 per cent, with wealth manager AMP Ltd sliding 2.7 per cent.
The Big Four banks – Commonwealth Bank of Australia , Westpac Banking Corp, National Australia Bank and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group – all declined, off between 0.3 per cent to 0.6 per cent.
Miners shone, including Fortescue Metals Group, which gained 3.6 per cent.
Iron ore miners have come under pressure recently as prices of the steelmaking material have been falling.
Some investors were anxious about events in Argentina, where market-friendly President Mauricio Macri suffered a heavy defeat in presidential primaries.
Lithium miners Galaxy Resources and Orocobre , both of whom have large exposure to Argentina, lost 5.8 per cent and 6.4 per cent, respectively.
But Australia's biggest supermarket chain Woolworths rose 0.7 per cent, reaching near 5-year peak.
New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.2 per cent or nearly 18 points, to 10,854.77.
Meridian Energy was the biggest loser, down 2.4 per cent. Spark New Zealand and a2 Milk also dropped.

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