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Australian shares end at 2-week low as BHP tumbles on ex-div trade

Australian shares closed at a two-week low on Thursday, dragged by a steep drop in mining giant BHP Group after they traded without access to the next dividend, while a slump in iron ore prices weighed on other mining heavyweights.

The S&P/ASX 200 index ended 0.6% down at 7,485.7.

BHP Group, the world’s biggest miner, was the top loser on the benchmark with a near 7% tumble, as it traded ex-dividend. It had declared a final dividend of $2 per share last month.

The broader mining sub-index shed 2.9%, as Chinese iron ore futures plunged on Wednesday.

Gold stocks closed nearly 2% lower, even as bullion prices were little changed.

“Persisting concerns around COVID-19 appear to be denting investor sentiment, driving a fall in gold stocks. Investors seem concerned over the economic impact of recent extension of lockdown restrictions, ” said Kunal Sawhney, chief executive of Kalkine Group.

Authorities on Wednesday extended the lockdown in Melbourne, Australia’s second most populous city, for another three weeks as they shift their focus to rapid vaccination.

Healthcare stocks fell 1.1%, with Sawhney attributing the slide to negative market sentiment stemming from higher

variant cases and associated lockdowns. Although, he added, the fundamental picture for healthcare looks more promising over the longer term.

Biotech firm Mesoblast, however, was one of the top gainers on the ASX as investors scooped up cheapened shares after two days of steep falls due a disappointing earnings report.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index extended gains to a fifth session, rising 0.3% to 13,280.47.

The country reported a drop in new COVID-19 infections, which authorities said was a sign that a nationwide lockdown was helping to limit spread of the Delta variant.

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