ASX Today: ASX caps off worst week since GFC with more losses
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The share market climbed towards 11-month highs after the medical regulator cleared the way for vaccinations to start next month.

The S&P/ASX 200 shrugged off soft leads from Wall Street and commodity markets, advancing 23 points or 0.34 per cent by mid-session. The rally topped out just a tenth of a point short of last Thursday's 11-month peak.

What's driving the market

Sentiment got a welcome pre-Australia Day boost when the Therapeutic Goods Administration granted provisional approval to Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine. Clearance allows the federal government to start vaccinating late next month. The vaccine is the first to be approved for Australian use.

"This vaccine meets the high safety, efficacy and quality standards required for use in Australia," the TGA said. "Australians can be confident that the TGA's review process of this vaccine was rigorous and of the highest standard," the regulator added.

The news helped bolster buying conviction ahead of tomorrow's market holiday. Traders dipped their toes in consumer stocks, banks and miners despite unconvincing leads from the US.

The S&P 500 fell 0.3 per cent and the Dow 0.57 per cent on Friday amid disappointing earnings and Covid concerns. Tech and small caps bucked the broader trend.

US futures edged higher ahead of the heaviest week of the quarterly reporting season. Almost half of Dow component companies and nearly a quarter of the S&P 500 will report this week. S&P 500 futures climbed 13 points or 0.3 per cent.

Going up

Gains in retailers, iron ore miners and banks outweighed declines in industrials, gold and energy companies. The big three ore producers ignored a dip in the ore price triggered by fears Chinese demand might weaken during the nation's worst Covid outbreak since March. Fortescue Metals climbed 3.8 per cent, Rio Tinto 1.1 per cent and BHP 0.7 per cent.

Wesfarmers' push into record territory extended into a sixth session. The retail conglomerate gained 1.6 per cent. Kogan gained 2.8 per cent, 1.7 per cent and JB Hi-Fi 1.5 per cent. Supermarkets Woolworths and Coles added 1.1 and 1.7 per cent, respectively.

The big four banks marched in lockstep to gains of 0.6 per cent. Macquarie Group dipped 0.2 per cent. Other heavyweights to join the rally included Afterpay +2.4 per cent, Goodman Group +1.8 per cent and Telstra +0.6 per cent.

Gambling group PointsBet inched up 0.4 per cent to a record on news it had signed former basketball great Shaquille O'Neal as a brand ambassador.

Going down

Energy was the biggest drag on the market amid concerns new restrictions in China and Hong Kong will undermine oil demand. Woodside Petroleum fell 1.1 per cent, Santos 0.3 per cent and Oil Search 0.9 per cent. Fuel retailer Ampol sank 4.8 per cent after completing a share buyback.

The vaccine news was too well telegraphed to bring any relief to the beaten-down travel and tourism sector. Travel agents Flight Centre and Webjet fell 3.1 and 3.2 per cent, respectively. Qantas shed 1.2 per cent.

A soft finish to last week for precious metals weighed on gold stocks. Saracen Mineral eased 2.5 per cent, Northern Star 2.3 per cent and Newcrest 1.5 per cent. Silver Lake fell 1.2 per cent despite reaffirming its gold sales guidance and upgrading its copper guidance.

Beyond the resources space, the biggest weights at the top end of the market were Transurban -1.3 per cent, Aristocrat Leisure -0.8 per cent, Brambles -0.3 per cent and CSL -0.1 per cent.

Other markets

A mixed morning on Asian markets saw China's Shanghai Composite fall 0.3 per cent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng improved 0.89 per cent and Japan's Nikkei added 0.46 per cent.

Gold added to Friday's $9.70 loss. The yellow metal fell $2.60 or 0.1 per cent to $US1,853.60 an ounce. Brent crude dipped eight cents or 0.1 per cent to $US55.33 a barrel.

The dollar rose 0.04 per cent to 77.12 US cents.

What's hot today and what's not

Hot today: Shares in Altech Chemicals (ASX:ATC) rallied on news tests have begun on the company's experimental coating technology for improving the life and capacity of lithium-ion batteries. The company has developed a process for coating graphite particles with a thin layer of alumina that it hopes will improve battery performance. Testing has commenced on a batch of electrodes produced using Altech's technology and a control group. The share price climbed 16.3 per cent.  

Not today: An unexpected drop in revenue last quarter weighed on one of this year's big growth stories. Tech seller Harris Technology Group (ASX:HT8) slid 15.8 per cent after announcing revenue eased from $9.8 million in the first quarter of FY21 to $9.6 million in the last three months of the year as demand for pro-hygiene products slowed. The company said overall sales were flat despite record Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales. Shares in the company have surged over the past nine months from below two cents in April to above 20 cents in December.

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