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Aussie shares marked time as crude oil hit a five-month high and several big banks touched their lowest point since the end of the Royal Commission.

The ASX 200 struggled for direction following a mixed close on Wall Street, lately trading two points or less than 0.1 per cent ahead at 6223. The energy sector enjoyed another strong session, rising 1.6 per cent after trouble in Libya helped push US crude closer to $US65 a barrel overnight.

Oil has risen for six straight sessions amid signs that a full-blown civil war could break out. West Texas Intermediate crude futures were lately up another 11 cents or 0.2 per cent at $US64.51 a barrel after earlier touching a five-month peak.

Santos led the energy rally here, rising 3.1 per cent after announcing seven new gas-producing wells in the Cooper basin. Woodside put on 2.6 per cent and Oil Search 2.1 per cent. Yield stocks were the biggest drag on the index, with the banks a significant headwind for a second day as analysts questioned their profit prospects if the Reserve Bank cuts its key lending rate this year, as expected.

CBA, Westpac and ANZ all touched their weakest level since the Royal Commission into finance wrapped up in the first week of February. CBA and ANZ eased 0.7 per cent, and Westpac 0.4 per cent. NAB dropped 0.6 per cent to a six-week low. The utilities and consumer staples sectors both fell 0.4 per cent.

The day’s standout performer was James Packer’s casino group, Crown Resorts, which surged 20.6 per cent to $14.16 on takeover interest from American giant Wynn Resorts. Crown confirmed it was in confidential discussions with Wynn over a cash-and-shares offer valuing the company at $14.75 per share, but warned the board has yet to meet to consider the proposal and there was no certainty that a transaction would result. Tech stocks continued to outperform the broader market.

Appen put on 3.9 per cent after completing a successful share issue to fund its purchase of American firm Figure Eight Technologies. Altium added 2.7 per cent and Smartgroup Corporation 2.4 per cent. US stocks took a breather overnight ahead of the start of what is expected to be a soft quarterly earnings season.

While the three major share indices are near record levels, Wall Street analysts have warned that company earnings could fall as much as 4 per cent as the trade war with China and weak European demand take their toll.

Last night, the S&P 500 edged up 0.1 per cent to an eighth straight win, but the Dow gave up 0.32 per cent. US stock futures deteriorated this morning, S&P 500 futures recently shedding 2.75 points or 0.1 per cent as Asian markets turned lower. China’s Shanghai Composite dipped 0.3 per cent, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng 0.1 percent and Japan’s Nikkei 0.2 per cent

Gold futures advanced $1.40 or 0.1 per cent to $US1,303.30 an ounce. On currency markets the dollar was buying 71.2 US cents. Looking ahead, the slow start to the week continues with only a couple of second-tier economic reports due tonight in the US: job openings and consumer confidence.

Consumer sentiment is also on the menu here tomorrow, as well as a speech in Adelaide by RBA Assistant Governor Guy Debelle.

CWN by the numbers
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