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The share market extended its losses and the dollar fell after data showed more than half a million Australians were thrown out of work last month as the nation locked down against the coronavirus pandemic.

Already in the red following overnight falls on Wall Street, the S&P/ASX 200 pushed its loss out to 50 points or 0.9 per cent by mid-session after an attempted rebound stalled.

Economists knew the jobs figures would be grim. The only question was how grim? The answer was complicated. Employment fell by a seasonally-adjusted 594,300 to 12.4 million, a bigger fall than the 575,000 market consensus. However, the unemployment rate increased by less than expected from 5.2 per cent to 6.2 per cent because almost half a million of the 594,300 were classed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics as “having left the labour force”.

A more accurate indicator of the collapse in the jobs market was the underutilisation rate, which combines the unemployed and underemployed rates and rose to a record high 19.9 per cent. About one in five people employed in March – roughly 2.7 million Australians – either lost their job or had their hours slashed. The dollar declined 0.3 per cent to 64.35 US cents.

The jobs news compounded earlier falls after a grim economic outlook from the Federal Reserve dragged Wall Street lower overnight. The S&P 500 fell 50 points or 1.75 per cent after Fed Chair Jerome Powell warned Americans to prepare for a long-slow recovery.   

A two-speed market here saw slender gains in miners and utilities overwhelmed by declines in banks, oil companies and health stocks. Defensive gold stocks shone brightly. Resolute Mining rallied 5.2 per cent, Newcrest 4.3 per cent and Saracen Mineral 3.9 per cent, offsetting dips of 0.3 per cent in BHP and Rio Tinto. Among utilities, APA Group climbed 0.6 per cent and Spark Infrastructure 3.6 per cent.

The morning’s best performers were companies that released earnings that defied weak trading conditions. Graincorp jumped 14 per cent after announcing a first-half profit after tax of $388 million, boosted by widespread rain in the east and the sale of its bulk liquids terminals business and demerger of its malt arm. Breville put on 9.7 per cent after announcing strong revenue growth through the early months of the pandemic. The company also unveiled plans to raise $104 million through a share placement.

Oil companies fell for a third day after energy stocks topped sector losses in the US. Beach Energy shed 5.1 per cent, Santos 3.2 per cent and Woodside 2.3 per cent. Brent crude slipped seven cents or 0.2 per cent this morning to $US29.12 a barrel.

The biggest losers on the index includes European shopping centre operator Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, down 7.1 per cent, salary packager McMillan Shakespeare, down 5.8 per cent, and asset manager Janus Henderson, down 5.4 per cent. The big four banks shed between 2.2 and 3.2 per cent.

A downbeat morning on Asian markets saw China’s Shanghai Composite fall 0.7 per cent, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng 1.3 per cent and Japan’s Nikkei 0.6 per cent. S&P 500 index futures eased nine points or 0.2 per cent.

Gold rose $5.40 or 0.3 per cent to $US1,721.80 an ounce.

What’s hot today and what’s not:

Hot today: The shift to DIY home grooming paid off handsomely for Shaver Shop Group (ASX:SSG), which reported a 32.1 per cent lift in sales over the last six weeks. While foot traffic collapsed at the company’s stores, online sales surged 387 per cent as customers snapped up hair clippers, beard trimmers and depilating devices after beauticians and hairdressers closed their doors. Eleven of the company’s 110 Australian stores remain closed. Three of its seven New Zealand stores recently reopened. The company’s share price jumped 36.1 per cent to a two-month high.   

Not today: Shares in Australia’s biggest tech company by market capitalisation, Xero (ASX:XRO), took a hit after the cloud-based business platform  missed consensus sales expectations. Shares declined 3.8 per cent despite a maiden full-year net profit after tax of $3.3 million. The company warned that COVID-19 had impacted trade this year. RBC analysts said the UK and US performance were below expectations.

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