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Record night on Wall Street to boost ASX

Australian shares headed towards their first weekly advance since the start of the Covid-19 crisis despite a mid-morning fade.

The ASX 200 rose 123 points or more than 2 per cent to 5237 before rolling over to a loss of 89 points or 1.8 per cent at the halfway mark. At its peak this morning, the benchmark index had put on 834 points or 18.9 per cent since Monday's seven-year low of 4402.

The market opened strongly after a third night of gains on Wall Street, where dire unemployment data was offset by the prospect of a government cash splash. The S&P 500 rallied 6.24 per cent as an economic rescue bill passed in the Senate and moved towards a vote in the House of Representatives tonight. The Dow surged 6.38 per cent to extend its three-day rebound beyond 20 per cent, the largest since the Great Depression.

The disconnect between the stock market and main street was underlined by the worst US jobless figures on record. Almost 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits for the first time last week, more than five times as many as during the worst week of the GFC.

Here, Kathmandu and  Adairs joined the growing list of retailers shutting up shop until the virus lockdown eases. Kathmandu shares climbed 1.8 per cent after it announced it was temporarily closing its 118 Australian stores, which include the Rip Curl brand, and standing down most of its staff without pay. Linen retailer Adairs fell 7.6  per cent on news it will shutter 160 stores for four to six weeks.

Technology was the morning's best-performing sector. Afterpay rose 7.7 per cent. Anyone who bought on Monday has seen a 100 per cent return on their investment in four sessions. Mapping software company Nearmap put on 5.5 per cent today, Computershare 2.8 per cent and WiseTech 3.9 per cent.

The defensive utilities sector drew a bid. APA Group put on 2.7 per cent, AGL Energy 1.6 per cent and AusNet Services 2.4 per cent.

The rot set in an hour into trade as supermarkets and resource stocks turned negative. Woolworths declined 2.5 per cent, Coles 4 per cent and IGA wholesaler Metcash 2.5 per cent. Mining giant BHP sagged 3.5 per cent, Rio Tinto 1.9 per cent and Newcrest 3.3 per cent. The big four banks lost between 0.4 and 1.2 per cent.

The energy sector followed oil lower. Woodside shed 2 per cent, Santos 6.5 per cent and Beach Energy 1.4 per cent. Overnight, Brent crude sank $1.05 or 3.8 per cent overnight to US$26.34 a barrel. The international benchmark this morning recouped roughly a third of those losses, rising 35 cents or 1.3 per cent to $US26.69.

The index's worst performers were businesses exposed to the economic impact of the virus. Childcare centre operator G8 Education slumped 13.4 per cent, outdoor advertiser Ooh!Media 13.1 per cent and  shopping centre landlords Scentre Group and Mirvac 11.3 per cent.

Asian markets pared opening gains but remained positive. China's Shanghai Composite put on 0.7 per cent, Hong Kong's Hang Seng 1.4 per cent and Japan's Nikkei 1.7 per cent. S&P 500 index futures were recently down 28 points or 1.1 per cent.

Gold fell $11.50 or 0.7 per cent to $US1,639.70 an ounce.

The dollar climbed 0.7 per cent to 61.04 US cents.

What's hot today and what's not:

Hot today: Digital health operator 1st Group (ASX:1ST) has found a way to leverage off the pandemic, launching a new Covid-19 directory service to help people find healthcare services. Managing Director Klaus Bartosch said, "By consolidating all services in one convenient website directory we are doing our bit to assist customers who are otherwise scrambling to try and find services and information online." The directory compiles details of government pop-up clinics, GPs, psychologists and telehealth providers using 1st Group's MyHealth1st platform. The share price jumped 42.9 per cent.

Not today: One of the biggest challenges facing  governments around the world is how to balance the opposing interests of landlords and tenants. Lew Solomon's Premier Investments (ASX:PMV) threw down the gauntlet to Australian shopping centre landlords yesterday by declaring his stores, which include the Just Jeans, Smiggle and Peter Alexander brands, would close for a month and stop paying rent. The options for shopping centre owners are unpalatable: evict long-term tenants in an economic downturn or cop the hit. Shares in Scentre Group (ASX:SCG), which operates under the Westfield brand, and Mirvac (ASX:MGR), which owns more than a dozen shopping centres, fell 11.3 per cent.


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