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Aussie shares backed off record levels as investors weighed takeover action and positive US leads against negative Covid news and an anti-money laundering crackdown.

The S&P/ASX 200 hit a fourth straight record high before fading to a loss of 13.5 points or 0.19 per cent.

The index surrendered early gains after Victoria reported 11 new local coronavirus cases and AUSTRAC announced investigations into NAB and three casino groups as part of an expanding probe into money laundering.

Software companies Altium and Hansen Technologies surged on takeover interest. Technology stocks and REITs advanced. The big four banks retreated with bond yields.

What moved the market

Travel and tourism stocks fell after a weekend spike in Covid-19 cases appeared to muddy the prospect of Victoria emerging from lockdown on Thursday night, as scheduled. State health authorities reported 11 locally-acquired cases, lifting the number of local active cases to around 80.

Corporate Travel Management dropped 5.14 per cent, Flight Centre 4.82 per cent, Webjet 4.91 per cent and Qantas 1.85 per cent.

Despite the jump in the headline number, Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said Victorians could take heart from the fact all the new cases were linked.

“Today brought some positive signs – nine of 11 cases are effectively in quarantine, not many new exposure sites,” he said.

NAB, Crown Resorts, SkyCity Entertainment and The Star Entertainment Group retreated after AUSTRAC told the companies it had concerns over compliance with anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing legislation.

The agency said it had not yet made any decision on enforcement action. Options available to the agency included civil penalty orders, enforceable undertakings, infringement notices and remedial actions. All four companies said they would cooperate with the investigations.

NAB shares slid 3.16 per cent. Crown lost 1.5 per cent, SkyCity 6.47 per cent and Star Entertainment 2.02 per cent.

Altium jumped 39.03 per cent from $27.21 on Friday to a high of $38.26 after the company revealed an unsolicited non-binding indicative offer of $38.50 a share from US multinational Autodesk. The company said the offer undervalued its prospects. Goldman Sachs will act as financial adviser.

Hansen Technologies rose 22.59 per cent after BGH Capital lobbed an unsolicited non-binding offer valuing the software company at $1.3 billion.

Worries about inflation were stoked by news job advertising surged 7.9 per cent last month to its highest since 2008. The sharp increase underlined pressures on labour markets and wages as the economy rebounds.

US futures wobbled after a strong finish to last week. S&P 500 futures declined seven points or 0.17 per cent. On Friday, the index rallied 0.88 per cent to within 0.2 per cent of a record.

Winners’ circle

Growth stocks advanced as Australian yields followed US counterparts lower. The tech sector climbed 2.8 per cent. Nuix bounced 6.18 per cent off Friday’s record low. Appen jumped 6.13 per cent, WiseTech 3.05 per cent and Megaport 2.14 per cent. The yield on ten-year Australian government bond yields dived almost six basis points.

The major iron ore producers finished mixed following a Friday recovery in industrial metals as the US dollar declined. Rio Tinto climbed 0.57 per cent and BHP added 0.21 per cent. Fortescue Metals faded to a loss of 1.39 per cent.

A rise in gold on Friday helped lift Newcrest 0.55 per cent, Regis 1.92 per cent, Ramelius 1.94 per cent and Silver Lake Resources 2.02 per cent.

Centuria Industrial REIT (CIP) rallied 3.6 per cent on news the trust will be added to a closely-followed European REIT index.

“CIP’s inclusion in the FTSE EPRA Nareit Global Index follows the growth of the REIT’s size, revenue, value and liquidity,” Jesse Curtis, CIP Fund Manager, said. “We welcome this index inclusion that offers domestic and international investors with another transparent and efficient means for comparing CIP to global real estate peers.”

Shipbuilder Austal advanced 4.02 per cent after securing a US$3.6 million contract to design a new towing, salvage and rescue ship for the US Navy.

Aged care operator Japara Healthcare climbed 5.38 per cent to $1.175 after suitor Little Company of Mary Health Care (also known as Calvary) sweetened its takeover offer to $1.20 per share. Japara said it would allow Calvary to carry out due diligence with a view to firming up its indicative offer.

Scientific instruments manufacturer Trajan rose 16.47 per cent upon debut. Shares that listed at $1.70 rose as high as $2.04 before trimming their advance to $1.98.  

Doghouse

The rate-sensitive banking sector retreated with bond yields. ANZ sank 1.3 per cent, CBA 0.58 per cent and Westpac 0.89 per cent. Macquarie Group shed 0.33 per cent.

Telstra pulled back 0.28 per cent from Friday’s 14-month high. Wesfarmers dipped 0.87 per cent. Woodside faded 0.25 per cent as a sell-off in crude gathered pace this afternoon.

FOS Capital made an inauspicious start to life on the boards, falling 18 per cent upon listing. The company manufactures indoor and outdoor lighting.

Other markets

A patternless session on Asian markets saw the Asia Dow slump 0.32 per cent and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng shed 0.63 per cent. China’s Shanghai Composite was unchanged. Japan’s Nikkei added 0.25 per cent.

Oil retreated from two-year highs. Brent crude slid 73 cents or 1.02 per cent to US$71.16 a barrel.

Gold eased $4.10 or 0.22 per cent to US$1,887.90 an ounce.

The dollar faded 0.07 per cent to 77.35 US cents.

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