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Aussie stocks eked out their first gain in four sessions as a recovery in iron ore prices helped the heavyweight miners join defensive assets in positive territory.

The S&P/ASX 200 swung from a 59-point opening loss to a gain of 13.5 points or 0.19 per cent.

Healthcare and property were the pick of the sectors during a cautious session ahead of tonight’s US inflation report. A rebound in iron ore prices helped the materials sector pivot from early headwind to tailwind. Banking stocks were the session’s biggest drag.

What moved the market

The ASX 200 survived a second test of the 7000 support level during another swing session. The benchmark fell as low as 6992 before recovering to 7065.

A rebound in iron ore prices from three days of falls helped the bulk metal miners turn positive. The most-traded ore futures contract on the Dalian Commodity Exchange climbed 5.8 per cent this afternoon.

Rio Tinto bounced 2.59 per cent. Fortescue Metals firmed 2.3 per cent. BHP gained 1.42 per cent.

Also piquing buying interest was a rally in US equity futures. S&P 500 futures climbed 16 points or 0.4 per cent amid speculation tonight’s US consumer inflation report might prove a turning point in this year’s inflation surge.

“All eyes are now glued to April’s Consumer Price Index data due tonight, which will help investors gauge whether inflation will continue to remain high or has already passed its peak. Speculations are rife that April’s inflation numbers could show some deceleration and have likely peaked in March,” Kunal Sawhney, chief executive of research group Kalkine, said.

“The upcoming data will also help the central bank to decide if it has to continue tightening monetary policy to rein in higher prices.”

US stocks steadied overnight, finishing mixed after three days of bloodletting. The S&P 500 edged up 0.4 per cent. The Nasdaq Composite bounced 0.98 per cent off a two-year low. The Dow gave up early gains to finish 0.26 per cent lower.

Back home, consumer confidence plunged to lockdown-era levels after the Reserve Bank raised the cash rate target and warned of more hikes to come. Westpac’s confidence index slumped 5.6 per cent to its lowest level since 2020.

“The weakness in this survey is not related to another pandemic shock but to the combination of rising cost of living pressures and the prospect of rising interest rates,” Westpac chief economist Bill Evans said.

“While headline inflation pressures may ease from this point, consumers are aware that the Reserve Bank plans to continue increasing the cash rate for some time.“

Winners’ circle

Traders turned to traditional havens as the market mood remained cautious. In the health space, CSL gained 2.06 per cent, Nanosonics 5.38 per cent and ResMed 2.01 per cent.

Lifestyle Communities bounced 15.09 per cent following a trading update. Charter Hall Retail advanced 2.23 per cent, SCA Property 2.47 per cent and Arena REIT 2.4 per cent.

Diversified property group GPT climbed 1.92 per cent on news it expects to meet guidance despite an uncertain trading environment. Office leasing markets remained “challenging” in the March quarter, but retail sales continued to improve.

Fund manager Magellan rallied 0.76 per cent after appointing David George as CEO and Managing Director. George was formerly Deputy Chief Investment Officer for public markets at the national sovereign wealth fund, the Future Fund.  

A 20 per cent rebound in full-year net profit to $193 million helped lift CSR 0.53 per cent. The building products manufacturer increased trading revenues by 9 per cent to $2.3 billion. 

Galileo Mining injected some welcome excitement into the moribund speculative end of the market after striking “significant” palladium-platinum-copper-nickel-sulphide mineralisation at its Norseman project. The miner’s shares more than tripled in value, rising 217.5 per cent.

Doghouse

The financial sector was the biggest drag, falling more than 1 per cent as NAB went ex-dividend. The bank’s shares dropped 3.93 per cent. ANZ declined 1.51 per cent, Westpac 1.62 per cent and CBA 0.19 per cent.

A mixed session for growth stocks saw PointsBet lose 1.87 per cent, Novonix 1.24 per cent and Block 1.15 per cent.

Declines in crude and gold helped push Woodside Petroleum down 0.78 per cent and Newcrest down 0.84 per cent.

Investors in GrainCorp locked in profits after the agribusiness reported a record half-year and reaffirmed earnings guidance. Pre-tax earnings tripled to $427 million from $140 million in HY21. Net profit jumped to $246 million from $51 million. The company confirmed its full-year profit forecast of $310-$370 million. The share price eased 0.95 per cent.

Trade in takeover target Link Administration Holdings was briefly paused after the share price plunged almost 13 per cent in morning trade on heavy volumes. The share price fell further when trade resumed, finishing 15.09 per cent in the red after the company said it had no explanation for the decline or volumes.

Other markets

Asian markets overcame early weakness. China’s Shanghai Composite put on 1.72 per cent, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng 2.01 per cent and Japan’s Nikkei 0.3 per cent. The Asia Dow dipped 0.12 per cent,

Oil rallied with the improvement in risk appetite. Brent crude climbed US$2.31 or 2.25 per cent to US$104.77 a barrel.

Gold continued to test three-month lows. The yellow metal fell US$3.80 or 0.2 per cent to US$1,837.20 an ounce.

The dollar bounced 0.36 per cent to 69.57 US cents.

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