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A wave of business closures failed to divert the ASX as it surged towards back-to-back gains for the first time since the start of the crisis.   

The benchmark index, the ASX 200, charged 129 points or 2.7 per cent to 4865 by mid-session. The rise positioned the index for consecutive gains for the first time since it peaked on February 20 at 7162.5.

Optimism over a fiscal stimulus package in the US overshadowed grim domestic news. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rocketed 2,113 points or 11.37 per cent overnight – its biggest rise since 1933 – as US politicians inched towards agreeing on a US$2 trillion stimulus package. The broader S&P 500 rose 210 points or 9.38 per cent.

The local market shrugged off a steady drip of bleak corporate announcements. Virgin Australia announced it was cutting 90 per cent of flights and standing down 8,000 workers. Casino group Star Entertainment stood down 90 per cent of its staff. Fashion retailer Mosiac Brands closed its stores and stood down indefinitely staff at its Rivers, Noni B and Katies stores. Sportscraft, Saba and JAG stores are also to close. Domino’s Pizza shut its New Zealand stores for four weeks following a government clampdown on food delivery and takeaway.

The mining, financial and industrial sectors all gained at least 4.7 per cent after the pendulum swung from despair to optimism overnight. Rebounds in iron ore, industrial metals and oil helped BHP climb 6.6 per cent to a two-week high. Rio Tinto rallied 4.1 per cent, Fortescue 5.7 per cent, Woodside 4.5 per cent and South32 6.6 per cent.

Gold miners shone again after gold bettered Monday’s largest rise on record. The precious metal surged $93.20 or 6 per cent a day after rising $83 or 5.6 per cent. Resolute Mining jumped 23.3 per cent, Gold Road Resources 9 per cent and Newcrest 4.5 per cent.

The major banks put Monday’s multi-year lows behind them. CBA gained 4.9 per cent, ANZ 6.5 per cent, NAB 5.1 per cent and Westpac 3.8 per cent. Fund manager Magellan put on 19.7 per cent, Perpetual 8.7 per cent and Challenger 7.5 per cent.

Qantas flew 20.5 per cent higher after announcing it had secured more than $1 billion in debt to tide it through the crisis. The debt was secured against the airline’s planes at an interest rate of 2.75 per cent.

Afterpay has become a barometer for the stock market’s emotions, exaggerating each rise and fall. This morning the buy-now-pay-leader leader rose 31.6 per cent to be the index’s best performer.

Defensive sectors were temporarily out of favour. The health sector eased 2.3 per cent as respirator-maker Fisher & Paykel fell 9.5 per cent and CSL 2.7 per cent Consumer staples shed 1.9 per cent with Woolworths down 3.1 per cent and Coles 2.6 per cent.

The rally continued on Asian markets. China’s Shanghai Composite added 1.9 per cent, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng 3 per cent and Japan’s Nikkei 5.5 per cent. S&P 500 index futures drifted nine points or 0.5 per cent lower.

Brent crude futures rallied $1.03 or 3.8 per cent this morning to $US28.17 a barrel. Gold put on another $7.70 or 0.5 per cent to $US1,668.50 an ounce.

The dollar edged up 0.1 per cent top 59.64 US cents.

What’s hot today and what’s not:

Hot today: The crisis is creating opportunities for companies in the right space. Shares in tech start-up HeraMED (ASX:HMD) have more than doubled in two days since the company announced an increase in enquiries about its pregnancy monitoring products for home use. With social isolation on the rise and hospitals overloaded, the company said it will target healthcare providers in the US, UK, Germany and Australia. The company’s products include in-home foetal heart-rate monitoring and social networking. The share price rose another 78.6 per cent this morning to 12.5 cents.    

Not today: Cynics have suggested undertakers will be one of the few businesses to profit from the current crisis. Alas, not even the funeral industry is immune from the impact of the virus. Shares in Invocare (ASX:IVC) took a hit after the funeral home and crematorium operator announced government restrictions on social gatherings were affecting business. Invocare said the restrictions meant it was unable to offer its usual range of services. While it was too early to assess the scale of the impact, the company will defer capital expenditure and put a freeze on hiring. The share price sagged 15.1 per cent to its lowest level in seven years.    

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