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Investors took advantage of low volumes and a holiday-shortened session to drive the share market to its highest close in more than a month.

The S&P/ASX 200 rallied 33 points or 0.44 per cent to a fourth straight gain. This afternoon’s close was the strongest since November 16.

Ten of eleven sectors rose. Afterpay and the banks did much of the heavy lifting. Defensive assets such as gold miners and supermarkets faced mild selling pressure.

What moved the market

The season of good will has provided a welcome circuit-breaker from the omicron gloom that enveloped markets last week. Australian stocks have put on 116 points or more than 1.5 per cent since Monday.

Record Covid case numbers at home and in several European countries have been unable to derail a late but welcome Santa rally. New South Wales this morning reported a national daily record of 5,612 new cases. France and the UK posted new national highs.

Investors continued to bet on omicron’s symptoms being milder than those of previous strains and easier to manage as new treatments become available. Studies from South Africa and the UK suggested omicron causes fewer hospitalisations than delta. The US regulator has approved two antiviral pills this week that can be used in the home.

Wall Street closed at a new high overnight as supportive economic data reassured investors the recovery remained on track. The S&P 500 rose 0.62 per cent to a third straight gain. The Dow added 0.55 per cent and the Nasdaq Composite 0.85 per cent.

“The major Wall Street indices powered higher on Thursday ahead of the most-awaited holiday weekend,” Kalkine Group CEO Kunal Sawhney said.

“Market sentiments improved after the early data suggested that the new Omicron COVID-19 variant could be significantly less dangerous than the prior strains. The promising data eased concerns around the impact of the new variant on the world economy, bolstering investors’ risk appetite.”

Back home, trading volumes have dropped as the holiday break neared. At 494 million shares traded, yesterday’s volume was the weakest since New Year’s Eve 2020. Today’s final tally was expected to be lower still.

Winners’ circle

Covid testers scaled fresh heights. Sonic Healthcare climbed 0.3 per cent. Healius hit an intraday record before dipping 0.19 per cent. Australian Clinical Labs fell short of Wednesday’s intraday high but logged a record close with a rise of 3.1 per cent.

Universal Biosensors climbed 2.27 per cent on news of a licensing deal to commercialise its Covid detection test. The test claims to be able to determine a patient’s viral status from a saliva sample within 30 seconds. The global licence agreement is with IQ Science, a New Zealand company.  

Sixteen of the heavyweights of the ASX 20 rallied. Afterpay gained 1.46 per cent, Aristocrat Leisure 1.22 per cent and Telstra 0.73 per cent.

Lenders were lifted by a rise in long-term interest rates. The yield on ten-year Australian government bonds rose more than three basis points. NAB added 0.63 per cent, CBA 0.52 per cent, ANZ 0.22 per cent and Westpac 0.09 per cent.

AMP jumped 6.38 per cent to a three-week high after striking a deal to sell its Infrastructure Debt platform. Ares Holdings will acquire the business for $428 million in cash.

The session’s other best performers were lithium miners Allkem (formerly Orocobre) +5.35 per cent and Pilbara Minerals +5.34 per cent.

Solis Minerals bucked the recent run of underwhelming market debuts this week. The South America-focussed miner overcame early weakness to advance 2.5 per cent.

Doghouse

Buyers took profits in gold miners despite a fresh five-week high in the yellow metal overnight. St Barbara dropped 2.42 per cent, Ramelius 1.95 per cent and Regis Resources 1.55 per cent.

At the top end, supermarkets Woolworths and Coles shed 0.45 and 0.23 per cent, respectively. Newcrest dipped 0.25 per cent and Rio Tinto 0.12 per cent.

Other markets

Asian markets mostly advanced. The Asia Dow tacked on 0.24 per cent, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng 0.12 per cent and Japan’s Nikkei 0.08 per cent. China’s Shanghai Composite shed 0.7 per cent.

The US futures market closed for the Christmas break shortly after the conclusion of regular trade this morning. Wall Street is shut tonight and reopens on Monday.

Brent crude retraced 27 US cents or 0.35 per cent to US$76.37 a barrel.

Gold eased US$1.60 or 0.01 per cent to US$1,810.10 an ounce.

The dollar rose 0.1 per cent to 72.4 US cents.

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