Australian stocks marked time as soft US index futures capped risk appetite ahead of a Reserve Bank policy statement.
The S&P/ASX 200 eased three points or less than 0.1 per cent by mid-session, trimming an early 19-point dip into the red. The Reserve Bank met this morning and was due to update its rates outlook and policy setting at 2.30 pm EST.
Buying interest was tempered by a decline in US index futures after President Donald Trump threatened to deploy troops to quell violent protests against policy brutality. S&P 500 index futures were recently down 16 points or 0.5 per cent. Overnight, the S&P 500 climbed 11 points or 0.38 per cent.
“Today I have strongly recommended to every governor to deploy the National Guard in sufficient numbers that we dominate the streets," Trump said. “If a city or state refuses to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”
Solid gains in tech and consumer stocks combined with a partial reversal in the big miners to cushion the Australian market from declines in the big four banks and most of the mining majors. Iron ore miners opened weak, but pared losses as the session wore on. Rio Tinto was lately up 0.1 per cent. BHP trimmed its loss to 0.9 per cent and Fortescue 0.2 per cent.
Battered media stocks were the index's best performers. Kerry Stokes' Seven West Media put on 11.4 per cent and real estate advertiser Domain Holdings 10.3 per cent. Radio broadcaster Southern Cross Media gained 3.3 per cent and Nine Entertainment 2.2 per cent.
Four of the top five tech stocks by market capitalisation advanced after the Nasdaq outperformed in the US. WiseTech improved 3.9 per cent, Afterpay 2.6 per cent, Altium 0.5 per cent and Computershare 0.6 per cent. Xero dipped 0.1 per cent.
While the big four banks retreated, a 1.6 per cent rise in Macquarie and gains of 2.6 per cent and 3.1 per cent in regional operators Bendigo Bank and Bank of Queensland helped keep the financial sector near break-even. CBA and NAB dipped up 0.1 per cent, ANZ 0.8 per cent and Westpac 1.1 per cent.
Shopping centre operator Vicinity Centres dropped 3.3 per cent after raising $1.2 billion to bolster the balance sheet. Gold miner Evolution Mining dropped 2 per cent after confirming media speculation it is exploring the sale of its Cracow mine in Queensland.
Consumer confidence improved for the ninth week in a row as lockdown restrictions continued to ease. The ANZ Roy Morgan confidence index rose 6 per cent to 98.3 points. The index bottomed at a record low 65.3 in late March.
A mixed morning on Asian markets saw China's Shanghai Composite drop 0.1 per cent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.5 per cent and Japan's Nikkei 0.9 per cent.
Oil extended overnight gains following reports that the world's major producers may meet earlier than planned to discuss extending production caps. Brent crude added 16 cents or 0.4 per cent this morning to $US38.48 a barrel. Gold inched up $1.10 or 0.1 per cent to $US1,751.40 an ounce.
The dollar sagged 0.25 per cent to 67.8 US cents.
Hot today: Shares in Decmil (ASX:DCG) briefly doubled in value on news the troubled construction and engineering group's largest shareholders got behind an entitlement offer. The company announced it had raised around $30 million through an institutional offer. It hopes to raise another $20 million from retail shareholders. The share price surged from 7.9 cents to 16 cents before easing to 9.25 cents, a gain of 17.3 per cent.