* ASX 200 gains for a sixth straight quarter
* Benchmark adds over 6% in March
* Tech stocks, banks, oil and gas top drags
* Miner BHP Group climbs over 2%
(Updates to close)
By Jaskiran Singh
March 31 (Reuters) – Australian shares snapped a seven-day winning streak to end lower on Thursday, as cautious investors refrained from placing huge bets on concerns over the Russia-Ukraine crisis and the prospect of aggressive rate hikes by the U.S. Federal Reserve.
The S&P/ASX 200 index ended 0.2% lower at 7499.6 points, as heavy losses in financials, technology and oil stocks offset mining boost just before close. The index, however, ended higher for a sixth straight quarter. Global risk sentiment was dull as hopes of a negotiated resolution to the Russia-Ukraine war were quickly diminished on news of Moscow’s bombardment in the outskirts of Kyiv.
Markets also weighed on speculation that the U.S. central bank may follow an aggressive approach in hiking interest rates, as it looks to control stubborn inflation. Domestic technology stocks shed 2.2% and were the top percentage decliners. The tech sub-index snapped two sessions of gains as it tracked overnight losses in its U.S. peers.
ASX-listed shares of Block Inc plunged 4.7% while accounting software provider Xero Ltd lost 4.6%. While financials edged 1% lower on the day, they added 3.7% in March quarter. Australia and New Zealand Banking Group shed 1%, while Commonwealth Bank of Australia slid 1.2% and 1.1%, respectively. Energy stocks dived 1%, but gained about 25% in March quarter, following news that Washington may release up to 180 million barrels from its strategic petroleum reserve to sooth soaring crude prices. Oil majors Santos Ltd and Woodside Petroleum Ltd shed between 1.4% and 1.7%. The mining sub-index , which was single-handedly propping up the market until close, was overpowered by broad losses.
The sub-index added 1.8% on the day as iron ore prices got a boost after China pledged to roll out policies to counter the pressures stemming from the recent COVID-19 surge. Sector majors BHP Group added 2.3% and 1.9%, respectively, while Fortescue Metals Group soared nearly 4.5%. New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index ended 0.095% higher at 12,110 points.
(Reporting by Jaskiran Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)
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This article originally appeared on reuters.com