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Record night on Wall Street to boost ASX

Shares swept to an all-time high as investors positioned for next week's long-awaited US-China trade deal.

The ASX 200 cracked 6900 for the first time, rising 45 points or 0.7 per cent to 6920 by mid-session. The threat of war in the Middle East, which dogged global markets earlier in the week, was all but forgotten as the benchmark local index joined Wall Street at an all-time high. Overnight, the S&P 500 advanced 22 points or 0.67 per cent as market heavyweight Apple closed at a record.

With the US and Iran backing away from military confrontation, the spotlight swung to the arrival next week in Washington of a Chinese delegation to sign a phase-one trade deal with the US. Chinese Vice Premier Liu He is due to arrive on Monday for a three-day visit.

Health was the pick of the sectors here as CSL and ResMed marched to all-time highs. Global biotech CSL extended yesterday's breakout with a rise of 2.1 per cent. ResMed, which specialises in treating sleep disorders, put on 0.7 per cent.

The nation's largest supermarkets also had a strong morning. Coles climbed 2.4 per cent to its highest level since early December. Woolworths followed with a rise of 1.5 per cent. The big four banks gained between 0.4 and 0.9 per cent.

Appen fronted gains among the WAAAX group of tech leaders, advancing 2.1 per cent. Wisetech added 1.7 per cent, Altium 1.22 per cent, Xero 1.4 per cent and Afterpay 1.1 per cent.

A sharp drop in iron ore yesterday weighed on the materials sector. BHP shed 0.5 per cent, Rio Tinto 0.1 per cent and Fortescue 1.2 per cent after the spot ore price retreated 3.4 per cent.

A three-week rally in gold stocks continued to unwind. A production downgrade sent Evolution Mining down 9.2 per cent (more below). Resolute lost 6.6 per cent, Silver Lake Resource 4.2 per cent and Newcrest 1.5 per cent.

The market overcame a brief wobble after strong November retail sales data dampened the case for a rate cut next month. Sales jumped a seasonally-adjusted 0.9 per cent, more than twice the 0.4 per cent increase anticipated by economists. The dollar edged up less than a tenth of a cent before easing to 68.56 US cents as interbank futures signalled reduced odds on a cut to the cash rate.

A subdued morning on Asian markets saw China's Shanghai Composite and Hong Kong's Hang Seng edge up 0.2 per cent and Japan's Nikkei 0.3 per cent. S&P 500 index futures advanced five points or almost 0.2 per cent.

Brent crude futures slid 16 cents or 0.2 per cent this morning to $US65.21 a barrel. Gold faded $4.50 or 0.3 per cent to $US1,549.80 an ounce.

What's hot today and what's not:

Hot today: lithium stocks have enjoyed a revival this year amid bullish predictions for the price of the metal used in batteries as demand for electric vehicles accelerates. Pilbara Mining hit a short-term bottom on Christmas Eve and has since gained 33 per cent. Shares in junior miner Magnis Energy Technologies (MNS) have more than doubled this week from 8 cents on Monday to 18 cents today. The rally has come as analysts predict demand will catch up with supply this year, lifting prices.   

Not today: a production downgrade sent Evolution Mining (EVN) into reverse this morning . Shares slumped 35 cents or 9.2 per cent to $3.46 after the gold miner slashed production guidance at its Mt Carlton mine in Queensland from 95,000 - 105,000 ounces to 70,000 - 75,000. The company blamed orebodies that narrowed at shallower levels than modelling predicted.

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