ASX 200 closes flat; Australia shares end mixed as Sydney lockdown disrupts travel

Australian shares closed flat on Monday, as heavy losses in travel and tourism stocks offset e-commerce firms after the country placed swathes of its population under some form of movement restrictions amid rising COVID-19 cases.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was flat at 7,307.3 points, with travel and technology stocks leading losses.

Over the weekend, Australia reported one of the highest numbers for locally acquired coronavirus cases this year, triggering lockdowns in the cities of Sydney and Darwin and forcing tighter restrictions in four states.

“These coronavirus-related lockdowns have turned the market towards trends first seen in the early stages of the pandemic last year,” Henry Jennings, senior analyst at Marcustoday Financial Newsletter said.

“Supermarkets and online retailers are advancing with the two-week stay-at-home order, while travel and tourism stocks are again dampened due to the movement restrictions.”

Travel and toursim stocks were hammered with Qantas Airways , Webjet Ltd, and Flight Centre Travel Group each sliding about 5 per cent to lows not seen in more than a month.

Online retailers won big with the coronavirus-related lockdowns prompting a rally in the “stay-at-home” stocks. E-commerce names such as Temple & Webster and closed above 10 per cent each.

Panic-buying at supermarkets pushed share prices of Woolworths and Coles 3 per cent and 1.8 per cent higher, respectively.

Local tech stocks closed 2.8 per cent lower with buy-now-pay-later darling Afterpay dropping up to 7.7 per cent in its worst intraday session in more than six weeks, weighing on the sub-index.

Gold stocks tumbled 1.6 per cent despite a slight rise in bullion prices, with Gold Road Resources Ltd leading losses after the Australian miner lowered its production forecast for the June quarter.

Energy stocks closed 0.2 per cent higher, tracking an uptick in oil prices. Sector heavyweights Woodside Petroleum and Santos gained 1.04 per cent and 1.4 per cent, respectively.

Stronger iron ore prices helped the mining sub-index close 0.2 per cent higher, with index heavyweights BHP Group advancing 1.3 per cent while Fortescue Metals Group jumped 1 per cent.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index ended 0.18 per cent lower at 12,603.8.

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