Rising US index futures helped the ASX claw back some losses even as economic indicators signalled the economy is rapidly slowing.
A day after closing at a seven-and-a-half-year low, the ASX 200 rebounded 163 points or 3.6 per cent to 4709. This morning’s bounce reclaimed almost two-thirds of yesterday’s 270-point tumble, which followed weekend news of tougher restrictions on businesses to contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
The morning’s data underlined the scale of what is expected to be a crash in economic activity in the months ahead. Consumer confidence collapsed last week to a level last seen during the recession of the early 1900s. The ANZ-Roy Morgan confidence index swooned 27.8 per cent to 72.2. An index of spending intentions slumped by 37.2 per cent.
A separate report showed the services sector fell off a cliff this month. The CBA-Markit “flash” services purchasing managers’ index dropped from a reading of 49 in February to a record low 39.8 this month as tourism seized up, businesses closed and events were cancelled. A separate measure of manufacturing offered a glimmer of hope, holding broadly steady at 50.1.
Nonetheless, stocks struggled higher after US index futures caught a lift from progress on a stalled trillion-dollar stimulus bill. S&P 500 futures were lately up 69 points or 3.1 per cent after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took the procedural steps towards a fresh vote on the bill as soon as tonight. Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin met Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to iron out Democratic Party objections to the proposed package. Afterwards, Schumer reportedly said the Democrats’ “list of outstanding issues” had “narrowed significantly” and they would work into the night.
Tech and resource stocks led the rebound. Utilities declined and consumer staples trailled during a “risk-on” session. Gold stocks outperformed.
In what is becoming a pattern, yesterday’s worst performers were today’s biggest winners. Buy-now-pay-later darling Afterpay built momentum as the morning progressed, rising 26.7 per cent by mid-session. Fund manger Challenger bounced 19.5 per cent, Credit Corp Group 51.2 per cent and pokie-maker Aristocrat 18 per cent.
In a counter-intuitive move, BHP surged 4.6 per cent despite heavy falls in iron ore and copper. Fellow ore miners Rio Tinto and Fortescue rose 1.3 per cent and 2.8 per cent, respectively. After resisting the downtrend on commodity markets for weeks, iron ore slumped 7.3 per cent yesterday. Copper traded at an 11-year low in China.
Gold hit an all-time high in Australian dollars overnight, but you would not know it from the Australian All Ordinaries Gold Index. The index of local companies bounced 12.1 per cent this morning but remains well off its August peak. Today, Gold Road Resources climbed 19.7 per cent, Saracen Mineral 18.9 per cent, Resolute Mining 17.2 per cent and Newcrest 9.2 per cent. Gold gained $21.10 or 1.3 per cent this morning, attaining $US1,590 an ounce after surging $83 or 5.6 per cent overnight.
Utilities have operated as a sporadic, if unreliable, haven from four weeks of carnage, but this morning sank o.5 per cent as sector heavyweight APA Group lost 1.3 per cent. Graincorp was the index’s worst performer, tumbling 51 per cent after it spun out its malt operations into a new listing named United Malt Group.
The big four banks crawled off multi-year lows. CBA climbed 6.8 per cent, ANZ 4.9 per cent, NAB 4.3 per cent and Westpac 3.8 per cent.
Asian markets advanced. China’s Shanghai Composite put on 1.7 per cent, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng 3.7 per cent and Japan’s Nikkei 5.3 per cent.
Brent crude rallied $1.10 or 4.1 per cent this morning to $US28.13 a barrel.
The dollar rose 1.5 per cent to 59.16 US cents.
What’s hot today and what’s not:
Hot today: Shares in Structural Monitoring Systems (ASX:SMN) briefly tripled in value after the aviation product manufacturer announced it had passed another milestone towards commercialising its CVM system for assessing aircraft. The US Federal Aviation Administration issued a Stage II Issue Paper, bringing a long-awaited Supplemental Type Certificate designation within reach within weeks. The company said it continued to track well ahead of budget and had not been impacted by the virus pandemic. The share price jumped from 23.5 cents to 78 cents before trading lately at 56 cents, a rise of 138 per cent.
Not today: The recently rebranded Virgin Money UK (ASX:VUK) ploughed to an all-time low after the British government announced tough new restrictions overnight. In a troubling harbinger of what may lie ahead for Australians, Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered Britons to stay at home, giving police the power to ensure people only go outside to buy essentials, exercise once a day, meet medical needs or travel to essential work. Virgin Money UK cut its standard variable mortgage rate overnight by 0.65 per cent. The share price slumped 15 per cent.