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The ASX pushed further into uncharted territory before paring gains as institutional traders locked in profits on the last session of the month.  

The leading Australian index, the ASX 200, got within seven points of cracking 6900 for the first time before easing back to a gain of seven points or 0.1 per cent at 6871. Today’s rally kept the index on track for a sixth straight advance and a weekly tally of more than 160 points. The spectacular gains came after economists predicted the benchmark lending rate will fall to 0.25 per cent next year, fuelling a rotation out of bank deposits and bonds into shares.

Trading volumes remained subdued after dropping off yesterday ahead of last night’s Thanksgiving market holiday in the US. The index peaked in the first 15 minutes of trade, then faded.

The two heavyweight health stocks, CSL and Cochlear, provided much of the momentum. CSL rose 0.6 per cent to a new record following a broker upgrade from Macquarie. Cochlear advanced 0.7 per cent, also setting a fresh high. Pharmaceutical company Mayne was one of the index’s best performers, rising 4.6 per cent. Healius dipped 1.1 per cent despite announcing it had won a case against the tax office.

Tech stocks were the morning’s other best-performing sector. A broad rally lifted Bravura Solutions 1.4 per cent, Technology One 1.4 per cent and Altium 1.1 per cent.

A subdued morning for the big four banks was overshadowed by a surge in the rebranded Virgin Money UK, formerly known as CYBG Group. Shares in the UK lender jumped 23.1 per cent as investors bet the company had put an insurance scandal behind it. The company said it had set aside $494 million for costs relating to the mis-selling of payment protection insurance.  

Nut grower Select Harvest climbed 7.2 per cent to a three-month high after an increase in production and a firming price for almonds helped the company deliver a full-year net profit after tax of $53 million. Mining services group NRW Holdings rose 7.1 per cent to its strongest level in more than seven years after raising $120 million at a premium to buy BGC Contracting.

What’s hot today and what’s not:

Hot today: VN8 leaped almost 50 per cent after the junior telco announced it was acquiring Queensland hardware provider 2SG Wholesale for $2.66 million. 2SG has 140 wholesale customers and contracts with major telecoms. The acquisition consists mainly of escrowed shares, plus $500,000 in cash. VN8 shares were last up 47.8 per cent at a seven-month peak.

Not today: the impact of the trade war helped send shares in window furnishings company Gale Pacific to a six-month low this morning. The company, which manufactures in China and sells in the US, has felt the effects of Donald Trump’s tariffs, announcing it expects a half-year loss of $1.5 – $1.8 million and a 20 per cent decline in full-year profit. Chairman David Allman told shareholders the company plans to mitigate the effects of the tariffs by reducing costs and raising prices. Shares were lately down 8.1 per cent.

Asian markets were mixed. China’s Shanghai Composite dipped 0.1 per cent, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng sank a hefty 1.1 per cent and Japan’s Nikkei edged up 0.1 per cent. S&P 500 index futures were recently down seven points or 0.2 per cent ahead of tonight’s abbreviated trading session.

Brent crude futures were lately down 14 cents or 0.2 per cent at $US63.13 a barrel. Gold edged up $2.50 or 0.2 per cent to $US1,463.30 an ounce in US electronic trade.

On currency markets, the dollar was steady at 67.66 US cents.

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