The share market rallied into the Easter long weekend even as soft US index futures raised concerns about the outlook during the break.
The ASX 200 climbed 92 points or 1.8 per cent, holding most of its opening gains through to mid-session despite the prospect of a four-day halt to trading. Wall Street does not recognise Easter Monday as a holiday and will trade twice before the ASX re-opens on Tuesday.
US index futures were briefly boosted by a White House press conference before shedding their gains. President Donald Trump said restrictions imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic may be lifted in stages and possibly ahead of schedule. The president said efforts to slow the spread of the virus were working. He called on Congress to pass a bill increasing funding available for small businesses.
S&P 500 index futures were recently off ten points or 0.4 per cent, reversing a rise of similar proportions. Overnight, the benchmark US index rose 3.41 per cent after Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders dropped out of the race, clearing the way for a “market-friendly” run-off in November between Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.
The local market was lifted by solid gains in the industrials, technology, consumer discretionary, energy and financial sectors. The materials sector eased 0.1 per cent. Consumer staples traded flat.
Outdoor advertiser oOh!Media was the index’s star performer, surging 21.5 per cent on news broadcaster HT&E Limited (formerly known as APN) used the recent market weakness to snap up at least 11 million shares or at least 1.8 per cent of the company. HT&E shares edged up 4.4 per cent.
A strong morning for stocks most affected by the March market meltdown saw Perenti Global climb 20.2 per cent, Credit Corp 16.5 per cent and Seven Group Holdings 13.3 per cent. Qantas jumped 7.1 per cent, JB Hi-Fi 4.4 per cent and Flight Centre 6.4 per cent.
Health giant CSL rose 1.3 per cent after reaffirming its full-year profit guidance despite problems collecting plasma during the crisis. Elsewhere in the sector, Ramsay Health Care put on 2.7 per cent, Cochlear 0.8 per cent and Sonic Healthcare 0.9 per cent.
A solid morning for big banks saw CBA advance 1.6 per cent, ANZ 3.6 per cent, NAB 3 per cent and Westpac 2.6 per cent. The materials sector was weighed down by declines of 1.7 per cent in Newcrest, 0.8 per cent in BHP and 0.5 per cent in Rio Tinto.
Job advertising on Seek cratered last week as pandemic restrictions threw a buck of water on the employment market. The number of new ads was 65.3 per cent lower than the same time last year.
“This portends a sharp deterioration int he Australian labour market, with the unemployment rate expected to rise sharply in Q2,” NAB economist Tapas Strickland wrote.
Asian markets were mixed. China’s Shanghai Composite added 0.5 per cent and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng 0.7 per cent. Japan’s Nikkei dipped 0.4 per cent.
Oil continued to rally ahead of tonight’s scheduled OPEC+ meeting. Brent crude advanced 45 cents or 1.4 per cent this morning to $US33.28 a barrel. Gold retreated $1.50 or 0.1 per cent to $US1,683 an ounce.
The dollar was broadly steady at 62.24 US cents.
What’s hot today
Hot today: Shares in generic drug-maker IDT Australia (ASX:IDT) lurched higher after the company revealed it had been asked by the federal government to “assist with certain Covid-19 response activities”. While the deliciously vague phrase raised more questions than it answered, traders smelled money. Speculation in trading circles immediately focussed on the possibility the company might be asked to produce hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malarial drug touted by Donald Trump as a treatment for the novel coronavirus. The share price soared from 12 cents to 23 cents before settling around 18 cents, a rise of 71.4 per cent.