Record night on Wall Street to boost ASX

The ASX edged towards its first gain in three sessions during a choppy start to the decade.

The benchmark index, the S&P/ASX 200, traded both sides of break-even before climbing to a mid-session gain of nine points or 0.1 per cent at 6693. The market touched fresh four-week lows before rebounding during a directionless, low-volume morning.

Institutional traders who locked in profits at the end of last year proved in no hurry to rebuild their portfolios after Tuesday's heavy 1.8 per cent dive. Gains in Telstra, the big miners and health and tech stocks were largely offset by losses among the banks.

NAB sank 0.6 per cent to its lowest level since last May. CBA shed 0.1 per cent, ANZ 0.7 per cent and Westpac 0.3 per cent.

The resources sector was mixed. BHP opened in the red, but swung to a 0.4 per cent gain by midway. Rio Tinto advanced 0.9 per cent, offsetting declines of 0.9 per cent for Newcrest and 0.7 per cent for South32. The revival in lithium producers continued with advances of 7.1 per cent in Pilbara Minerals and 4.9 per cent in Galaxy Resources.

Telstra rebounded 1.7 per cent from Tuesday's five-week low. A 0.2 per cent rise in CSL and 0.4 per cent gain in Cochlear kept the health sector in positive territory despite falls of 0.4 per cent for Ramsay Health Care and 0.2 per cent for Sonic.

Buy-now-pay-later leader Afterpay put on 3.4 per cent after confirming it had obtained a Californian lending licence necessary to expand its business dealings in the US. Wisetech added 0.5 per cent.

The market had broadly positive leads after Wall Street rallied on the final session of 2019. The S&P 500 rose 0.29 per cent to cap its best year since 2013. The benchmark index's 28.9 per cent return was the biggest in percentage terms since a 29.6 per cent surge in 2013.

The morning's only significant economic release saw Chinese manufacturing growth ease a fraction more than expected last month. Caixin's purchasing managers' index declined from 51.8 in November to 51.5, still well above the 50-piont level that divides expansion from contraction.  

The Shanghai Composite rallied 0.8 per cent, Hong Kong's Hang Seng 0.6 per cent. Trade on Japan's Nikkei halted for a public holiday. S&P 500 index futures rose seven points or 0.2 per cent.

Brent crude futures jumped 22 cents or 0.3 per cent this morning to $US66.21 a barrel. Gold slipped $1.30 or 0.1 per cent to $US1,521.80 an ounce.

The dollar was broadly steady at 70.15 US cents.

What's hot today and what's not:

Hot today: shares in waste energy producer Integrated Green Energy Solutions (IGE) have more than doubled since the company updated the market on plans to convert plastics from shredded cars into fuel in the US. IGE has partnered with GEP Fuel and Energy Indiana to construct a facility in Indiana.  The joint venture will pay IGE $US39 million to cover initial construction costs of modules capable of processing the plastics. Shares in the Australian company rallied 45.5 per cent on Tuesday and another 65.6 per cent this morning.

Not today: buy-now-pay-later newcomer Sezzle's (SZL) expansion plans in the US hit a hurdle after the California Department of Business Oversight announced it intends to decline Sezzle's application for a lending licence. While the company already operates in California, the rejection complicates plans to cut middlemen out of its business model. Sezzle said it will work with the DBO to remove any obstacles to granting the licence. Shares in the online lender, which listed last July, skidded 16 per cent to an all-time low.

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