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Investors took advantage of positive leads and low trading volumes to lift the share market to its biggest gain in three weeks.

The S&P/ASX 200 surged 89.5 points or 1.21 per cent following back-to-back intraday records on Wall Street.

The Australian benchmark finished at 7510, its highest close since September 8. Today’s advance was the strongest since a 91.5-point jump on December 8.

All 11 sectors rose. Woolworths, Woodside Petroleum and Goodman Group were the best of the majors. Nine out of ten of the index’s component companies rallied.  

What moved the market

A global “Santa rally” that began last Tuesday gifted investors a fifth straight advance as the local market played catch-up with developments across the festive break. While Australians digested their Christmas excesses in front of the cricket, the S&P 500 in the US hit fresh highs on Monday and again last night.

“The market is seen to be catching up with gains in New York as investors shrug off Omicron concerns,” Kalkine Group CEO Kunal Sawhney said.

The S&P 500 booked its 69th record close of 2021 on Monday before easing 0.1 per cent overnight. The Dow climbed 0.26 per cent to a fifth straight gain.

Today’s advance continued a seasonal trend. Historic data shows markets have an upwards bias over the festive season when fewer institutional traders are active.

“The Christmas holidays are usually considered to be a great time for investors and traders to put their heads down and make some extra income to offset holiday and other expenses,” Sawhney said.

Financial markets continue to bet the emergence of the reportedly-milder omicron Covid variant will provide a stepping stone towards ending the pandemic. A South African study released overnight suggested infection with omicron provided some protection against the more severe delta strain.  

Travel and tourism stocks barely blinked as Covid cases almost doubled in 24 hours in New South Wales. The state reported 11,201 new cases this morning, up from 6,062 cases on Tuesday. Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania also reported record case numbers.

Winners’ circle

Covid testers scaled fresh heights. Sonic Healthcare advanced 0.97 per cent. Healius added 2.79 per cent. Australian Clinical Labs hit a record before retracing 0.5 per cent.

Lithium miners spearheaded gains as investors bet on strong demand next year for “white gold” used in batteries and electric cars. Pilbara Minerals surged 7.09 per cent to an all-time high. Shares that traded at 13 cents last year closed at $3.17 this afternoon.

Liontown Resources rose 7.47 per cent. Allkem (formerly Orocobre) put on 5.48 per cent.

Government approval for drilling in WA lifted Chalice Mining 7.79 per cent. GrainCorp rose 5.1 per cent to a fresh high following record grain receivals.

Woodside Petroleum firmed 1.93 per cent after Brent crude booked a fifth straight advance. Santos gained 0.31 per cent and Beach Energy 4.1 per cent.

CBA climbed 1.26 per cent to a six-week peak. ANZ added 1.53 per cent, NAB 1.25 per cent and Westpac 1.23 per cent. Woolworths tacked on 2.12 per cent, Wesfarmers 1.63 per cent and Goodman Group 1.98 per cent.

A three-year deal with Singtel lifted software-as-a-service provider Whispir 6.28 per cent. The contract to supply internal notification systems to the Singapore telco’s staff is worth a minimum $1.33 million.

The day’s best performer was explorer Carnaby Resources. The copper-gold hopeful soared 71.43 per cent after announcing a “major discovery” at its Greater Duchess project at Mount Isa in Queensland. The company’s shares have more than tripled from 29 cents to a high of $1.39 this morning since it began reporting results from the Nil Desperandum Prospect.   

Syrah Resources rallied 3.37 per cent after providing more detail on last week’s announcement of an offtake agreement with Elon Musk’s Tesla. Conditions attached to the graphite supply deal include both parties agreeing on final specifications for supply by the end of next year and Syrah commencing production by May 31, 2024. The miner plans to make a final investment decision on the Vidalia mine in the US next month.

Almond grower Select Harvests shrugged off news of a fire at a site for processing low-value waste. Damage to the site was still being assessed. The company intended to submit an insurance claim for the property and business interruption losses. The share price overcame initial weakness to rise 2.36 per cent.

Doghouse

Afterpay was one of only two heavyweights to resist the rising tide, falling 1.81 per cent. The BNPL leader’s share price is tied to that of prospective US acquirer Block (formerly Square), whose shares declined 2.85 per cent overnight as part of a broad retreat from high-growth US stocks. Rio Tinto eased 0.3 per cent.

The session’s other major falls were coal miner Whitehaven -2.2 per cent, casino group SkyCity -1.35 per cent and telecom TPG -1.34 per cent.

Travel and tourism stocks were mixed despite the spike in Covid cases. Corporate Travel Management fell 1.21 per cent. Qantas rallied 1.62 per cent, Helloworld 3.28 per cent, Flight Centre 0.68 per cent and Webjet 0.57 per cent.

Other markets

US futures continued to nudge higher. S&P 500 futures advanced five points or 0.1 per cent. Nasdaq futures bounced 54 points or 0.33 per cent.

A red session on Asian markets saw the Asia Dow fall 0.31 per cent, China’s Shanghai Composite 0.79 per cent, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng 0.88 per cent and Japan’s Nikkei 0.77 per cent.

Oil pushed for a sixth gain. Brent crude firmed seven US cents or 0.1 per cent to US$78.74 a barrel.

Gold declined US$4.70 or 0.26 per cent to US$1,806.20 an ounce.

The dollar overcame morning weakness to inch up 0.02 per cent to 72.33 US cents.

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