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The share market shrugged off weak leads and record Covid numbers in NSW as robust consumer confidence data suggested Australians were learning to live with omicron and the Prime Minister ruled out further lockdowns.

The S&P/ASX 200 rallied 36 points or 0.5 per cent by mid-session. Today’s advance was the index’s second in six sessions.

Nine of eleven sectors advanced. Gains in mining, banking and energy provided momentum. Tech stocks were the only significant drag as Afterpay fell to a 14-month low.

What’s driving the market

The ASX 200 has been in gentle retreat for almost two weeks, but showed signs in recent sessions of building a base around the 7300 level. The index has closed within eight points of that level for the last three days..

Stocks crept higher after a gauge showed consumer confidence successfully weathering the recent surge in Covid cases in NSW. ANZ’s confidence index improved 0.4 per cent last week to 108.4 for a third straight gain. Confidence in NSW jumped 4.5 per cent.

The survey was carried out over a weekend when NSW recorded back-to-back record numbers of new Covid cases. The state this morning reported 3,057 new infections, the first time daily totals have passed 3,000 anywhere in Australia.

“Sentiment improved sharply in NSW (+4.5 per cent) and Victoria (+1.1 per cent) despite the rising number of Omicron cases in both states.” ANZ Senior Economist, Adelaide Timbrell, said. “The much lower hospitalisation rate compared to the Delta wave probably helped.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison this morning said the nation had to move from government mandates to personal responsibility.  

We’re not going back to lockdowns,” he said. “We’re not going back to shutting down peoples’ lives.

“There will be other variants beyond omicron and we have to ensure, as a country, and as leaders around the country, we are putting in place measures that Australians can live with.”

The minutes from this month’s Reserve Bank meeting showed the board recognised the threat from omicron but did not anticipate a major impact on the economy.  

“The emergence of the Omicron variant was a new source of uncertainty, but it was not expected to derail the recovery,” the minutes said.

US stocks sank for a third night as the apparent collapse of President Joe Biden’s social spending bill compounded omicron worries. Biden tested negative for Covid this morning following close contact with an aide who contracted the virus.

The S&P 500 dropped 1.14 per cent. The Dow shed 433 points or 1.23 per cent.

Going up

CSL continued to heal following a heavily-discounted capital raising to buy Swiss firm Vifor Pharma. The biotech rallied 3 per cent. On the wider healthcare sector, Nanosonics climbed 5.08 per cent, Cochlear 2.49 per cent and Ramsay Health Care 2.16 per cent.

The ill winds pummelling markets blew some good for Covid tester Australian Clinical Labs. The pathology services provider rallied 7.72 per cent to an all-time high after upgrading its first-half outlook.

Chief Executive Officer, Melinda McGrath, said: “We anticipate heightened volumes of COVID-19 testing to continue during the remainder of FY22 due to the impact of new variants and outbreaks, the lifting of travel restrictions and increased demand for both commercial and travel testing.”   

Yesterday’s biggest losers mounted rebounds. Magellan Financial Group inched up 0.61 per cent. The asset manager’s shares tumbled 32.9 per cent yesterday after it lost an important client. Cimic added 2.2 per cent. The builder slumped 13.37 per cent on an analyst downgrade and questions over its treatment of former employees in the Middle East.

An eight-week high in iron ore kept bulk metal miners well bid. Rio Tinto gained 1.59 per cent, Fortescue Metals 1.23 per cent and BHP 0.96 per cent.

In the financial space, CBA gained 0.67 per cent, NAB 0.56 per cent, ANZ 0.37 per cent and Westpac 0.29 per cent.

Going down

Afterpay slid 2.83 per cent to a 14-month low. The BNPL giant’s share price is closely linked to that of future owner Block, which dropped 5.24 per cent in the US overnight.

AMP dipped 0.82 per cent after announcing plans to delist from the New Zealand Exchange. The delisting reflects reduced shareholder numbers in NZ and will help reduce admin costs. Kiwi shareholders will be able to trade their shares on the ASX.

Lithium miner Pilbara Minerals declined 8.88 per cent after trimming its production guidance. The company experienced delays and shutdowns at its Pilgangoora plants, but said average prices received this quarter would be at the upper end of guidance.

A tough session for lithium companies saw Liontown Resources shed 4.19 per cent and Novonix 3.94 per cent. The morning’s other worst performers were biotech Imugene -2.98 per cent and mobile app maker LIfe360 -3.46 per cent.

At the heavyweight end of the market, gold miner Newcrest dipped 0.08 per cent and retail conglomerate Wesfarmers 0.27 per cent.

Other markets

Asian markets ignored weakness in Europe and the US. The Asia Dow firmed 1.09 per cent, China’s Shanghai Composite 0.32 per cent, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng 0.66 per cent and Japan’s Nikkei 1.75 per cent.

US futures built as the morning advanced. S&P 500 futures were recently ahead 22 points or 0.48 per cent.

Oil rebounded from last night’s 2.7 per cent dive. Brent crude bounced 34 US cents or 0.48 per cent to US$71.86 a barrel.

Gold dropped further from Friday’s three-week high. The yellow metal eased US$4 or 0.22 per cent to US$1,790.60 an ounce.

The dollar improved 0.07 per cent to 71.14 US cents.

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