Australia shares fall on caution ahead of U.S. presidential debate

(Reuters) – Australian shares fell on Wednesday, tracking overnight Wall Street losses, as investors pulled out of risky bets ahead of the first U.S. presidential debate, even as the domestic COVID-19 situation improved.

FILE PHOTO: Pedestrians are reflected in a window in front of a board displaying stock prices at the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) in Sydney, Australia, February 9, 2018. REUTERS/David Gray

The S&P/ASX 200 index .AXJO dropped up to 1.5% in early trade and was on track for a third straight day of losses, after Wall Street closed lower on Tuesday, snapping a three-day winning streak.

Global developments largely overshadowed an improving coronavirus situation in Australia’s hotspot of Victoria state, where 13 new cases were reported on Wednesday, far less than a peak of more than 700 cases logged in early August.

Barring a 0.7% gain by gold stocks .AXGD, all major sub-indexes were trading in the red.

Energy stocks .AXEJ, down as much as 2.1%, were the top losers among sectors due to an overnight 3% drop in oil prices over demand concerns. [O/R]

Whitehaven Coal WHC.AX lost up to 6.4% and was the top percentage loser on the sub-index, followed by Viva Energy VEA.AX, down 4.5%.

Sector heavyweight Santos STO.AX fell 3%, despite a state panel approving its A$3.6 billion ($2.57 billion) Narrabri gas project.

Tech stocks .AXIJ halted a three-day winning streak and fell up to 1.6%, with losses in EML Payments EML.AX and Afterpay APT.AX weighing on the sub-index.

Financials .AXFJ extended their losing streak to a third session. The “big four” banks slipped between 1.7% and 2%.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index .NZ50 fell 0.4% to 11,699.14 by 0105 GMT.

Shares of a2 Milk ATM.NZ hit their lowest in over six months, and were the top drag on the benchmark for the third consecutive day after projecting a bleak earnings outlook on Monday.

The country’s business sentiment improved in September amid growing confidence that the COVID-19 outbreak is under control, an ANZ Bank survey showed.

Reporting by Arundhati Dutta in Bengaluru; Editing by Rashmi Aich

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