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A truncated session saw the ASX claim a new eight-month high before technical problems at the market operator halted trade after just 24 minutes.  

The S&P/ASX 200 bolted 79 points or 1.2 per cent before unexplained technical issues brought a premature end to the day’s action.

ASX down for the count

The market operator placed the market in ‘Pause’ at 10.24 am, citing the “critical operational impact” of “ongoing market issues“. Anxious traders hung on their PCs, tablets and smartphones until an update shortly before 3 pm EST put them out of their misery.

“ASX equity markets will not open for the remainder of today,” the system status update read. “The underlying cause of the issue has been identified and a resolution path is in place to allow trading to commence tomorrow at 10am.” A further announcement was expected.

The boards of HotCopper and social media lit up with a mix of anger, indignation and baffled resignation. Many fretted over the status of open orders or settlement dates. Some called for class actions. One wag called for the market operator to issue itself a “Please Explain” notice.

Speculators attributed the outage to anything from Chinese hackers to the market operator’s recent website upgrade. Rival exchange Chi-X remained open all day.  

Late trade in index futures suggested the outage had limited impact on market confidence: SPI 200 index futures were last up 64 points or around 1 per cent at 6459, 25 points below the ASX 200’s last trade this morning at 6484.

What moved the market

The outage overshadowed an otherwise bright session for the local market. This morning’s rally brought the index within 11 per cent of its February peak. The advance extended the index’s rebound from the March pandemic low to 47 per cent.

The action largely mirrored Friday’s US trade, where optimism over a Covid-19 vaccine continued to direct investment flow. The S&P 500 put on 1.36 per cent and the Dow Jones Industrial Average 1.37 per cent.

US index futures hinted at further gains tonight. S&P 500 futures jumped 28 points or 0.8 per cent after US media called Georgia for Joe Biden, handing the challenger a seemingly unassailable lead over President Donald Trump.

Asian markets were boosted by the weekend signing of the world’s biggest trade pact. China’s Shanghai Composite climbed 1 per cent, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng 0.4 per cent and Japan’s Nikkei 1.8 per cent. Japan’s Mizhou Bank called the deal an “overdue life-line for global trade”.

Winners’ circle

REITs led the rally, rising 1.9 per cent. Mall operator Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield’s remarkable surge since last Monday’s Pfizer vaccine news continued with a jump of 9.3 per cent. Stockland gained 3 per cent, Scentre Group 2.7 per cent and Cromwell Property 2.6 per cent.

Fresh gains in oil ahead of an OPEC+ meeting this week helped lift the energy sector 1.6 per cent. Cooper Energy gained 2.9 per cent, Oil Search 2.7 per cent and Woodside 1.1 per cent. Brent crude climbed 41 cents or 1 per cent today to $US43.05 a barrel. OPEC and allied producers are expected announce a delay in lifting production caps due to expire in January.

ANZ rose 2.6 per cent to its strongest level since June. CBA improved 1.9 per cent, NAB 1.8 per cent and Westpac 1.3 per cent. Macquarie Group lost 0.5 per cent as it traded without its dividend.

Global health giant CSL climbed 1.8 per cent on news it will build a new manufacturing facility in Melbourne to supply flu vaccines. Supported by a 10-year deal to supply the federal government, CSL will plough $800 million into the facility at the Melbourne Airport Business Park.

Suncorp climbed 1.1 per cent after restating its confidence its business insurance policies do not cover pandemics. A test case lodged by the Insurance Council of Australia is currently before the NSW Court of Appeal.


SkyCity Entertainment sank 4.1 per cent after announcing a major executive reshuffle. The gaming group said CEO Graeme Stephens would retire, along with CFO Rob Hamilton and Chief Marketing Officer Liza McNally. Nine Entertainment eased 1.8 per cent on news CEO Hugh Marks will stand down.

Elders retreated 0.6 per cent from its highest level in almost a month despite releasing upbeat full-year figures as the agricultural sector recovered from a long-running drought. Underlying earnings increased by 62 per cent, boosting statutory after-tax profit 80 per cent to $122.9 million.

The tech sector faced mild downward pressure following the Nasdaq’s underperformance last week. Xero dropped 1.3 per cent, Altium 0.7 per cent and WiseTech 0.6 per cent.

Buy now pay later companies mostly declined after ASIC opted against increasing regulation of the thriving sector but called on the industry to “address consumer harm” after research showed one in five consumers were missing payments. Splitit fell 1.1 per cent, Sezzle 1.4 per cent, Z1P Co 0.5 per cent and Afterpay 0.3 per cent. ASIC said regulatory changes already in train would “provide an opportunity for the industry to address consumer harm”.

AusNet Services slid 2.3 per cent as it traded without its dividend. Toll road operator Transurban dipped 1.2 per cent.

Other markets

Gold extended Friday’s rebound. December gold rose $8.60 or 0.5 per cent to $US1,894.80 an ounce. The precious metal lost 3.4 per cent last week as havens fell out of favour.

The dollar was flat at 72.89 US cents.

Hot today and not today

Hot today: The gold sector continues to consolidate. A little over a month after Saracen and Northern Star announced a ‘merger of equals’, Dacian Gold (ASX:DCN) and NTM Gold (ASX:NTM) announced a friendly merger. Dacian will offer one share for every 2.7 shares in neighbour NTM. The proposal has the support of NTM’s board and two of its largest shareholders. NTM’s Redcliffe Gold Project will be integrated with Dacian’s Mount Morgan operation. NTM shares jumped 42.1 per cent. Dacian shares dipped 1.4 per cent.

Not today: Shareholders in St George Mining (ASX:SGQ) sniffed at the latest drilling results from the Mt Alexander nickel sulphide project in WA. The most recent hole intersected the right type of rock, but not the massive sulphides the company hoped to strike. Executive Chairman John Prineas said the results had not undermined the company’s confidence in the project’s potential for massive nickel-copper sulphides. The share price sank 18.2 per cent.

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