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Australian shares reached mid-session barely changed despite weakness on Wall Street after scientists raised doubts about a leading coronavirus vaccine candidate.

The S&P/ASX 200‘s three-session winning run was tested by a 53-point tumble in early trade. The market fought back to pare its loss to one point or less than 0.1 per cent at the halfway mark as US index futures rallied.

The initial decline followed a late slump on Wall Street after an American health website questioned the results of a vaccine trial on humans that triggered euphoric gains on Monday. The S&P 500 dived to a loss of 31 points or 1.05 per cent. Scientists interviewed by STAT News said Moderna had not released enough data to support claims of success in its phase-one trial. Moderna shares tanked 10.4 per cent.

S&P 500 futures were lately up 17 points or 0.6 per cent. In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei climbed 0.7 per cent, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng eased 0.2¬† per cent and China’s Shanghai Composite lost 0.3 per cent.

Here, a mixed market saw gains in tech stocks and industrials cushion the index from declines in utilities, miners and banks. The tech sector climbed 2.4 per cent as Nearmap put on 8.1 per cent, Computershare 4.2 per cent and Iress 2.6 per cent.

Industrial sector leaders Transurban and Brambles gained 1.7 per cent and 2.4 per cent, respectively. Sydney Airport edged up 0.4 per cent as news yesterday of a loosening of travel restrictions in NSW offset dire April usage figures. The airport said passenger traffic plunged 97.5 per cent last month.

The top six biggest utilities by market capitalisation declined. AusNet Services shed 5.2 per cent as it traded without its dividend. APA Group gave up 0.7 per cent, AGL Energy 1.1 per cent and Mercury NZ 0.2 per cent.  

Most of the market heavyweights retreated. BHP eased 1.2 per cent, Woodside 0.6 per cent, Rio Tinto 0.5 per cent, ANZ 0.4 per cent, CBA 0.2 per cent Westpac 0.2 per cent and NAB 0.1 per cent.

Online travel agent Webjet was the index’s best performer, rising 9.7 per cent as bargain-hunters continued to look for post-pandemic recovery stories. Domain Holdings gained 5.3 per cent, Flight Centre 4.4 per cent and Corporate Travel 3.2 per cent.

Strong demand for wagyu beef helped the Australian Agricultural Company defy the impact of drought, floods in the Gulf and COVID-19. The company’s shares lifted 2.3 per cent after it declared a full-year operating profit of $15.2 million as wagyu sales increased 20 per cent.   

Retail trade slumped by a record 17.9 per cent last month as panic stockpiling faded, according to preliminary data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The reversal, the largest ever recorded in the survey, followed a record rise in March as Australians stocked up on toilet paper, rice and pasta in the early days of the pandemic.

Brent crude edged up five cents or 0.1 per cent this morning to $US34.70 a barrel. Gold bounced $7.40 or 0.4 per cent to $US1,753 an ounce.

The dollar rose almost 0.2 per cent to 65.47 US cents.

What’s hot today and what’s not:

Hot today: Shares in Anson Resources (ASX:ASN) hit a ten-month high after the mineral resources developer announced the economics of its flagship Paradox brines project were “outstanding”, according to the engineering company carrying out a preliminary assessment. The independent assessment predicts average pre-tax annual earnings of $652 million by stage three of the project in Utah with a margin of 75.7 per cent. Investors liked what they read, boosting the share price 56.7 per cent to 4.7 cents.

Not today: In the ruthless world of trading, yesterday’s roosters are often today’s feather dusters. Shares in gas developer Emperor Resources (ASX:EMP), which briefly tripled to 6 cents yesterday on news of a deal with APA Group (ASX:APA), slumped 5.7 per cent this morning to 3.3 cents as momentum traders moved on. Wide Open Agriculture (ASX:WOA) met a similar fate. The share prices eased 10 per cent to 27 cents a day after its shares hit 40 cents on hopes it can replicate US giant Beyond Meat’s success with plant-based meat substitutes. Amplia Therapeutics (ASX:ATX) completed a trifecta of fallen angels with a drop of 12.9 per cent to 13.5 cents a day after touching 24 cents.  

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