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A surge in US index futures helped lift the ASX towards its first gain in three sessions as energy stocks shrugged off a squabble among oil producers.

The ASX 200 rallied 158 points or 3.1 per cent to 5225, reversing Friday’s 87-point drop.

All 11 domestic sectors advanced as US futures hinted at a positive start to the week. S&P 500 index futures jumped 76 points or 3 per cent this morning as traders seized on the positives ahead of what is expected to be a tough week in the US as the Covid-19 pandemic spreads. Dow futures climbed 629 points or 3 per cent.

The rise in US futures followed a White House press conference where President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence struck a cautiously positively tone. Trump said he saw “light at the end of the tunnel” and predicted the pandemic would peak in the US in coming days. Pence said, “We’re starting to see glimmers of progress.”

The local oil industry took in its stride news of a delay in a planned virtual meeting between some of the world’s major oil producers. The OPEC+ meeting originally scheduled for tonight was pushed back to Thursday at the earliest following a barbed exchange between Russia and Saudi Arabia. The two nations have been at loggerheads since Russia knocked back a Saudi proposal to reduce production to support prices.

Australian producers were still playing catch-up with a 13.9 per cent surge in Brent crude on Friday night. Santos climbed 6.5 per cent, Beach Energy 4.8 per cent and Woodside 2.9 per cent. The gains came as Brent crude pared Friday’s advance, falling $1.14 or 3.3 per cent this morning to $US32.97 a barrel.

The tech and health sectors set the morning pace, rising 4.2 and 3.9 per cent, respectively. The WAAAX group of tech leaders all saw gains. Wisetech rose 4.6 per cent, Altium 9.7 per cent, Appen 6.2 per cent, Afterpay 2.6 per cent and Xero 5.9 per cent.

An 8.5 per cent rally in sleep disorder specialist ResMed helped boost the health sector. Avita Medical gained 6.9 per cent after releasing well-received third-quarter numbers. CSL put on 3.9 per cent, Cochlear 6.1 per cent and Ramsay Health Care 5.2 per cent.  

Fund manager Magellan led the pack among financial majors, rising 11 per cent after announcing net inflows of $469 million last month as inflows from institutions outweighed outflows from retail investors. CBA put on 2.6 per cent, ANZ 3 per cent, NAB 2.7 per cent and Westpac 2.1 per cent. Macquarie Group tacked on 6.9 per cent.

The dash for cash continued for companies pressured by lockdowns and a collapse in economic activity. Travel agent Flight Centre announced a $700 million capital raising to steer it through the current travel ban. Broadcaster Southern Cross will seek $169 million to pay down debt and ride out a slump in ad revenues. Plumbing supplies retailer Reece will strengthen the balance sheet with a raising of $600 million. Shares in Oil Search were suspended while the company lined up a raising reported to be higher than $500 million.

A positive morning on Asian markets saw Hong Kong’s Hang Seng gain 0.3 per cent and Japan’s Nikkei 2.5 per cent. Chinese markets were closed for a holiday.

Gold edged up 30 cents or less than 0.1 per cent to $US1,646 an ounce.

The dollar rallied 0.4 per cent to 60.20 US cents.

What’s hot today and what’s not:

Hot today: Health authorities around the world are fast-tracking drugs that show promise in the fight against Covid-19. Australian biotech Mesoblast (ASX:MSB) this morning announced it had been cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration to trial a stem cell product on patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) caused by the virus. The company’s chief medical officer said the drug, Remestemcel-L, will be used on patients where the prognosis is “very dismal” and will also undergo a controlled randomised trial. MSB’s share price jumped 29.7 per cent.

Not today: With travel bans, closed borders and cancelled flights, the outlook for  travel agents looks bleak for months to come. Webjet (ASX:WEB) provisioned against the downturn by raising $231 million from institutions last week and is seeking another $115 million from retail investors. The company’s share price slumped 10 per cent this morning to $2.44, but remained well above the raising price of $1.70. Helloworld (ASX:HLO) has not tapped the market, but has laid off 275 staff and stood down another 1,300. The share price fell 9.4 per cent today after rebounding last week from an 18-year low.

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