Australian shares slip after six-day run but set for big annual gain


Dec 31 (Reuters) - Australian shares were set for big annual gains on Friday even as the benchmark index slipped after a six-day winning run as investors turned cautious due to a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Daily cases topped 20,000 on Thursday for the first time in the pandemic as Australia grapples with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant after most states eased tough restrictions. read more

The S&P/ASX 200 index (.AXJO) was down 0.4% at 7,480.8 by 0017 GMT, with losses in banks and energy stocks outweighing gains in mining names. The index has risen nearly 14% this year following a pandemic-driven drop in 2020.

Heavyweight financials (.AXHJ) fell 0.8% but were on course to record their best week in four. National Australia Bank (NAB.AX), Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA.AX) and Westpac Banking Corp (WBC.AX) fell between 0.3% and 0.8%.

Miners (.AXMM) rose as much as 0.5%, aided by a jump in Chinese iron ore futures. Rio Tinto (RIO.AX) and Fortescue Metals Group (FMG.AX) advanced 0.6% and 1%, respectively.

Gold stocks (.AXGD) jumped 1.7% to their highest since Nov. 24, tracking gains in bullion prices, but were set for their first annual decline since 2013, down nearly 11%.

Northern Star Resources (NST.AX) was up 2% on Friday, while Newcrest Mining (NCM.AX) advanced 1.5% to its highest since Nov. 22.

Technology stocks (.AXIJ) fell 0.2%, with EML Payments (EML.AX) and Life360 Inc being the top losers.

Energy (.AXEJ) and healthcare stocks (.AXHJ) were down 0.7% and 0.6%, respectively.

Major indexes on Wall Street closed lower overnight, retreating late in thin holiday volume from record highs set early in the session on strong U.S. data including a drop in weekly claims for U.S. unemployment benefits.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index (.NZ50) slipped 0.1% to 13,033.77 and was set for its first annual decline since 2011.

Reporting by Harish Sridharan in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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