Shares fell from a four-week opening high as traders weighed a rise in unemployment and a record daily increase in coronavirus cases against positive leads from Wall Street.
The S&P/ASX 200 opened at 6059, its best start to a session since June 11, but faded to a mid-session loss of 36 points or 0.6 per cent.
Fears about a second wave of COVID-19 infections were sharpened by news Victoria recorded 317 new cases, the biggest daily increase since the pandemic started. Two more deaths took the national toll to 113. Melbourne and Mitchell Shire returned to Stage 3 lockdown last week in a bid to contain the spread of the virus.
More a quarter of million Australians went back to work last month, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, but the jobless rate ticked higher as more people looked for work. After seasonal adjustments, the official increase in employment was adjusted down from 280,000 to 210,800, almost twice the gain economists expected as businesses reopened after the pandemic lockdown. Part-time employment increased by 249,000. Full-time work declined by 38,100. The jobless rate ticked up to a 22-year high of 7.4 per cent from 7.1 per cent in May.
“The easing of COVID-19 restrictions in June saw an extra 280,000 people in the labour force, with more people in employment, and more actively looking and available for work,” Bjorn Jarvis, head of labour statistics at the Australian Bureau of Statistics, said. “In June, around 24 per cent of the fall in employment through to May had been regained.”
The report had little impact on a market struggling for direction after yesterday pre-empting a positive session in the US. The S&P/ASX 200 surged 1.9 per cent yesterday to its biggest gain in a month following promising developments towards a vaccine for COVID-19. The Moderna vaccine news helped the S&P 500 put on 29 points or 0.91 per cent overnight as traders bought airlines, cruise companies and retailers. S&P 500 futures turned lower this morning, lately down 15 points or 0.5 per cent.
Travel and tourism stocks opened higher here, but battled to hold their opening gains. Flight Centre rose 0.9 per cent, Webjet 1 per cent, Qantas 2.3 per cent and Sydney Airport 0.6 per cent.
The Fortescue juggernaut rumbled 0.7 per cent higher to a new record at $16.24. Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest’s iron ore play has almost doubled its market cap since March as supply disruptions in South America and a rebound in Chinese demand lifted the price of ore to its strongest level in a year. Rivals Rio Tinto and BHP dipped 1.3 per cent and 0.9 per cent, respectively.
The big four banks faltered as the session wore on. NAB eased 0.2 per cent, Westpac 0.4 per cent and ANZ 0.5 per cent. CBA edged up 0.1 per cent. Macquarie Group added 0.5 per cent.
Among the biggest drags on the index were health giant CSL, down 1.8 per cent, gold miner Newcrest, down 1.5 per cent, and property group Goodman, down 1.3 per cent.
Asian markets dropped despite news China’s economy expanded 3.2 per cent last quarter despite the impact of coronavirus. The Shanghai Composite slumped 1.3 per cent, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng 1.2 per cent and Japan’s Nikkei 0.6 per cent.
Oil retreated from a four-month high. Brent crude eased 20 cents or 0.5 per cent this morning to $US43.59 a barrel. Gold dipped $2.60 or 0.1 per cent to $US1,812.20 an ounce.
The dollar dropped back below 70 US cents, lately down 0.3 per cent at 69.86 US cents.
What’s hot today and what’s not:
Hot today: Companies have been slower to climb aboard the COVID-19 bandwagon since an ASX crackdown on misleading claims about treatments and cures. ASX releases to the market now have to be backed with real substance to get past the gatekeeper. Shares in Anteotech (ASX:ADO) surged 68.2 per cent this morning after the medical device manufacturer announced its rapid diagnostic test for the virus had passed a ‘proof of concept’ trial. The test kit is designed to produce a diagnosis within 15 minutes. The next stage of development will take six to nine months.
Not today: A fall-out with a key customer cost Bluechiip (ASX:BCT) a quarter of its market capitalisation. Shares in the thinly-traded life sciences tech firm slumped 26.3 per cent on news Labcon North America had terminated a chip supply agreement with Bluechiip and lodged a damages claim for US$500,000. Bluechiip said it considered the termination unlawful and had instructed its lawyers to commence proceedings. The company said it is owed US$3.5 million under the terms of the supply agreement.