ASX Today: ASX caps off worst week since GFC with more losses
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Tech stocks hit a new high as the S&P/ASX 200 regained the 6800 level for the first time since last February.

The S&P/ASX 200 climbed 41.5 points or 0.6 per cent to 6812. Fuelled by a record close on the Nasdaq and a surge in Afterpay, the technology sector rose for a sixth straight session.

What's driving the market

The local market cemented yesterday's breakout session with a third straight advance. The index moved to within 5 per cent of last year's peak. Gains were fuelled by upbeat quarterly earnings reports and a record close on Wall Street.

US stocks surged to new highs as Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States and a knockout report from Netflix revitalised buying interest in 'stay at home' stocks such as Amazon and Facebook. The S&P 500 rallied 1.39 per cent. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite jumped 1.97 per cent.

“The market is rallying on hopes for a speedier recovery,” Peter Cardillio, chief market economist at Spartan Capital, told MarketWatch. But he cautioned, “There will come a point in time when the market will reflect on the new administration’s policies.”

Back home, the market responded positively to trading updates from the likes of Z1p Co, Netwealth, Perseus Mining and Mosaic Brands. Less well received were reports from Woodside Petroleum, South32, Vicinity Centres and Alumina. Cleanaway Waste dived 7.7 per cent after announcing the departure of CEO and Managing Director Vik Bansal (more below).   

The dollar held steady at 77.68 US cents after the December jobs report showed the economy created 50,000 jobs last month, bang on expectations. The employment rate dropped more than expected to 6.6 per cent from 6.8 per cent.

Queensland announced it will relax restrictions in Greater Brisbane after a tenth day without local Covid transmissions. New South Wales and Victoria also recorded zero locally-acquired cases.

Going up

Afterpay climbed 5.3 per cent to a new peak after Z1p Co reported record quarterly revenues of $102 million. Z1P's quarterly transaction volumes were more than twice the same period last year. Customer numbers increased by 97 per cent. The share price jumped 14.4 per cent. On the wider tech sector, WiseTech and Megaport climbed 4.8 per cent and Bravura Solutions 2.4 per cent.

Netwealth was the index's second-best performer after Z1p Co. The fund manager improved 11.7 per cent on record quarterly growth of $4.8 billion in funds under management last quarter.

An 18 per cent increase in annual production to a record 89 million barrels lifted Santos 0.5 per cent. Rival Woodside Petroleum sank 0.8 per cent after reporting a 2 per cent dip in production last quarter to 24.9 million barrels. Gold miner Perseus rallied 4.3 per cent on news production increased 12 per cent over the six months to the end of December.

Retail group Mosaic Brands soared 19.9 per cent after first-half earnings significantly outstripped analysts' expectations. The operator of the Noni B, Rivers and Katies brands said pre-tax earnings were expected to be $40 - $45 million, up around 22 - 38 per cent on the same period the previous year.

NAB was the best of the banks, rising 1.9 per cent. Westpac gained 1.3 per cent, CBA 1.2 per cent and ANZ 0.9 per cent. Rio Tinto was the pick of the big three iron ore producers, rising 1.1 per cent. BHP added 0.6 per cent. Fortescue Metals eased 0.4 per cent.

Aside from Afterpay and the banks, the big movers at the top end of the market were Woolworths +2.2 per cent, Aristocrat Leisure +1.8 per cent and Wesfarmers +1.5 per cent. Newcrest gained 0.8 per cent.

Going down

Alumina dropped 2.1 per cent on news the strengthening dollar took a toll on earnings last quarter. Adjusted pre-tax earnings slipped to $97 million from $119 million the previous quarter. Margins also contracted due to currency movements.

Shopping centre operator Vicinity Centres fell 2.1 per cent after the impact of the pandemic on retail trade forced the company to cut valuations of its 60 retail properties. The company slashed property values by 4 per cent or $570 million.

A warning about increasing cost pressures from a declining US dollar helped drag South32 down 1.1 per cent. The company produced more alumina, silver, lead and zinc last half, but less coal and nickel.

CSL was among the biggest drags at the heavyweight end, falling 0.7 per cent. Brambles dipped 0.6 per cent.

Other markets

US futures nudged higher. S&P 500 index futures climbed six points or 0.2 per cent.

China's Shanghai Composite gained 0.38 per cent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng slid 0.19 per cent. Japan's Nikkei added 0.81 per cent.

Oil extended a second night of gains. Brent crude rose 30 cents or 0.6 per cent to $US53.28 a barrel. Gold edged up $1.40 or 0.1 per cent to $US1,867.90 an ounce.

What's hot today and what's not

Hot today: Novonix (ASX:NVX) surged to an all-time high on news its US subsidiary had secured US$5.57 million from the US Department of Energy to develop furnace technology for producing battery materials. The grant is part of the US government's commitment to develop a domestic supply of materials for the next generation of batteries. Novonix said the award demonstrated the "expertise, progress, partners and technology" it had assembled at its US subsidiary, PUREgraphite. The share price jumped 21.2 per cent to $2.52.

Not today: Industrial waste manager Cleanaway (ASX:CWY) tanked 8.7 per cent on news CEO and Managing Director Vik Bansal was standing down. The company's share price quadrupled during Bansal's tenure from around 60 cents in August 2015 to above $2.60 this month. However, the corporate culture under Bansal attracted negative press last year. The share price sagged 8.9 per cent this morning to $2.37.

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