Record night on Wall Street to boost ASX

A strong week for the share market drifted towards a lacklustre close as the coronavirus epidemic continued to muddy the outlook for financial markets.

The ASX 200 broke out of a tight 12-point trading band mid-morning, reaching mid-session 18 points or 0.25 per cent ahead at 7122. The benchmark index struck an all-time high yesterday before paring gains following news of a sharp increase in deaths and confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus. Today's rally extends the index's gain for the week to around 100 points.

A four-year high for Commonwealth Bank and strength in defensive sectors this morning helped offset weakness in tech and resource stocks. CBA continued to bask in the afterglow of Wednesday's half-year earnings surprise, cruising higher for a third day. Shares in the largest of the big four banks were lately up 2 per cent at $90.06. NAB advanced 2.7 per cent to its strongest level in almost three months. Westpac edged up 1.1 per cent and ANZ 0.8 per cent.

The interim reporting season paused for a breather before resuming at full tilt next week. AGL Energy, one of yesterday's standouts, advanced 2.3 per cent. Wealth manager AMP climbed 2.3 per cent following several analyst upgrades. Treasury Wine Estates, which reported earlier in the week, rebounded 0.9 per cent from a two-year low. Gold miner Newcrest extended yesterday's post-earnings retreat, falling 3.3 per cent.

The tech sector is particularly sensitive to international market sentiment, and this morning slid 1.2 per cent as Iress shed 2.4 per cent, Appen 1.7 per cent and Technology One 1.8 per cent.

The energy sector was pulled lower by a 1.7 per cent slide in heavyweight Woodside following yesterday's  market update. Beach Energy dipped 3 per cent and Santos 0.9 per cent.

BHP,  which reports on Tuesday, sank 0.1 per cent. Rio Tinto gave up 0.1 per cent, Resolute Mining 2.4 per cent, and Northern Star 2.3 per cent.

Wednesday's spike in virus deaths kept a lid on overseas markets. Europe's benchmark closed just below even and the S&P 500 in the US eased 5.5 points or 0.16 per cent overnight.

US index futures reversed early losses. S&P 500 index futures were lately up three points or 0.1 per cent after the Chinese province at the centre of the epidemic announced there were 116 deaths yesterday and 4,823 new cases under the new definition.

Asian markets were mixed. China's Shanghai Composite gained 0.14 per cent and Hong Kong's Hang Seng 0.29 per cent. Japan's Nikkei fell 0.68 per cent.

Brent crude held broadly steady at $US56.35 a barrel. Gold edged up 50 cents or less than 0.1 per cent to $US1,579.40 an ounce.

The dollar rallied 0.1 per cent to 67.24 US cents.

What's hot today and what's not:

Hot today: Oventus (ASX:OVN) provided traders with a little sizzle during a dull session when the sleep apnoea specialist announced its O2Vent Optima device had been approved for reimbursement through the US's Medicare program. Shares in the company spiked 21.7 per cent to 56 cents, their highest level since mid-December. The device can be prescribed by dentists for people who experience breathing difficulties at night. The decision gives Oventus better access to the 64 million US citizens enrolled in the Medicare program.  

Not today: A generally upbeat half-year earnings update from Baby Bunting (ASX:BBN) was overshadowed by the threat of stock shortages from the baby goods retailer's Chinese suppliers. The retailer delivered an 8.1 per cent increase in total sales to $186.4 million over the six months to December, raising statutory net profit by 1 per cent to $4.8 million. So far, so good. However, the share price skidded 9 per cent after the company flagged possible disruptions to stock supplies due to the coronavirus. The company said the effects of the virus could not yet be determined.

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