Australia shares close year of historic highs and lows little changed

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Australia shares close year of historic highs and lows little changed

* Tech stocks end 2020 as best year on record

* Energy stocks see worst year since 2015

* NZ benchmark index adds 15% for the year (Updates to close)

Dec 31 (Reuters) – Australian shares wrapped up 2020 little changed from where they had begun, with tech stocks emerging as winners due to meteoric growth in buy-now-pay-later firms, while energy stocks saw their worst year since 2015.

On Thursday, the S&P/ASX 200 index ended 1.4% lower at 6,587.1, capping off a year of record highs and historic lows just 1.5% below where it had closed in the first session of 2020.

Trading volumes were about a fifth of the thirty-day average, with the few traders left at their desks during year-end holidays looking towards stricter COVID-19 movement curbs ahead of the New Year as authorities battle to quash fresh cases.

Tech stocks closed 2020 as their best year on record with a gain of nearly 57%, mostly powered by exponential growth in buy-now-pay-later firms as stuck-at-home Australians turned to alternative credit for online shopping.

Afterpay quadrupled its market value, while smaller peers Sezzle and Zip rose more than 200% and 50%, respectively.

Miners gained 18%, with their bull run projected to continue into 2021 backed by rising iron ore prices.

BHP Group and Rio Tinto added more than 11% and 15%, respectively.

Energy stocks closed nearly 30% lower as pandemic-induced lockdowns battered fuel demand, but a turnaround is expected in 2021 as oil prices stabilise.

For the day, all major sub-indexes except gold were trading lower.

Gold stocks climbed 0.5%, tracking an uptick in spot bullion prices, while energy stocks slumped 1% as oil prices dipped.

In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index settled 1% lower for the day, but closed the year 15% firmer.

Dairy producers a2 Milk and Synlait were among the top losers of 2020 as their over-exposure to China saw their shares getting hammered over the last two quarters. (Reporting by Arundhati Dutta in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)

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