Australia shares edge lower as US jobless data stokes recovery fears

Australian shares closed marginally lower on Friday as losses in healthcare stocks outweighed gains in the energy sector, while bleak US jobless data added to fears of a prolonged economic recovery.

The S&P/ASX 200 index slipped about 0.1% to 6,111.20, after a 0.8% fall on Thursday. For the week, the benchmark lost about 0.2%, snapping two straight weeks of gains.

Data released overnight showed the number of Americans filing a new claim for unemployment benefits rose unexpectedly back above the 1 million mark last week, a setback for a struggling US job market crippled by the coronavirus pandemic.

“The worry is the ability for us to continue to grow,” said Damian Rooney, director of equity sales at Argonaut, adding that the weekly US unemployment data was concerning.

“The equity market has been a good friend… but the merry-go-round could stop at any stage.”

Smoling Stockbroking Managing Director Brad Smoling said there was a strong sense in the market that a risk-off mode could come very quickly in case of a sell-off in the United States.

Australian healthcare stocks fell 1.3%, dragged by a 1.5% slide in sector heavyweight CSL Ltd, while Ansell lost 2.2%. On a weekly basis, the sub-index jumped 4.3% in its biggest gain since the week ended April 10.

Energy stocks settled 1.3% higher, lifted by a rise in oil prices on efforts by major producers to hold back output.

Santos gained 3.6%, while Woodside Petroleum added 1%.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index ended 1.5% higher at 11,835.94, boosted by technology stocks.

Among top gainers, Skellerup Holdings Ltd rose 6.43%, while Kiwi Property Group Ltd climbed 5%.

Dairy producer a2 Milk finished up 1.8% after it offered to buy a 75.1% stake in Mataura Valley Milk from China Animal Husbandry Group.