Australia shares end flat as energy, gold stocks drag

(Updates to close)

By Soumyajit Saha

July 26 (Reuters) - Australian shares pulled back from record highs to end flat on Monday as gains in mining stocks were offset by losses in energy and gold stocks, while rising domestic coronavirus cases also added to investor worries.

The S&P/ASX 200 index .AXJO closed flat at 7,394.3 points, but remained near an all-time peak hit earlier in the session.

The most populous state of New South Wales, home to Sydney, on Monday reported a rise in fresh COVID-19 cases despite an ongoing stay-at-home order.

Mining stocks .AXMM jumped as much as 1.5%, boosted by strong iron ore prices as a recovery in steel margins in China buoyed sentiment.

Global miners BHP Group BHP.AX and Rio Tinto RIO.AX advanced 1.3% and 2.5%, respectively.

Meanwhile, energy stocks .AXEJ dropped 1.4% as oil prices fell on concerns about fuel demand from the spread of COVID-19 variants and floods in China.

Oil & gas explorers Woodside Petroleum WPL.AX and Santos STO.AX lost 1.4% and 1.9%, respectively.

Gold stocks .AXGD fell to their lowest since April 7, hurt by weak bullion prices, with largest-listed gold miner Newcrest NCM.AX losing 1.5%.

"Investors are now looking for news to propel the market firmly into record territory", said James Tao, a market analyst with CommSec.

"In the short term, though there is a bit of uncertainty... participants will continue to look at the Sydney restrictions, and what that could mean for the country's economic recovery."

Beleaguered casino operator Crown Resorts CWN.AX plumbed near half-year lows as a Western Australia Royal Commission inquiry into its Perth operations was extended to March 2022.

Lynas Rare Earths LYC.AX was the biggest gainer on the benchmark index, after posting a record quarterly revenue.

New Zealand's S&P/NZX 50 index .NZ50 fell 0.5%, hurt by losses in financial and consumer stocks.
Reporting by Soumyajit Saha in Bengaluru; Editing by Ramakrishnan M.

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