The share market bull run stalled just short of record levels this morning as developments in the Westpac scandal knocked the wind out of the big banks.
The ASX 200 inched past last month’s record close of 6864, but never threatened the all-time intraday high of 6894. The benchmark index peaked at 6871 before paring its gain to a single point or less than 0.1 per cent at 6850.
Westpac was a deadweight, sliding 1.3 per cent after the banking regulator APRA told the bank it would have to set aside an extra $500 million in capital to reflect a “heightened operational risk profile” after alleged breaches of anti-money laundering laws. Virgin Money UK – the index’s best performer over the last two sessions – skidded 6.3 per cent. Other banks pared two days of steady gains, ANZ shedding 0.4 per cent and NAB 0.2 per cent. CBA bucked the trend with a rise of 0.1 per cent,
Mining giants BHP and Rio Tinto continued to test multi-month highs. BHP rallied 0.6 per cent to its strongest level since early August. Rio rose 1.3 per cent to a height last seen in late July. Both stocks have benefitted from commodity price rises in the aftermath of last week’s US-China trade deal.
Tech was among the best of the sectors following a strong night for trade-sensitive stocks on the Nasdaq. Appen advanced 4.1 per cent, Altium 1.8 per cent and Afterpay 0.3 per cent.
Health majors CSL and Cochlear stripped points off the index with declines of 0.7 per cent and 0.3 per cent, respectively. Fleet manager Smartgroup was the index’s equal-worst performer with Virgin Money UK, falling 6.3 per cent to a two-and-a-half-year low following a broker downgrade from Macquarie.
The dollar dipped following the release of minutes from the last RBA policy meeting. The Aussie was lately buying 68.66US cents, down a quarter of a cent. The minutes confirmed the central bank was in wait-and-see mode after leaving the cash rate at a record low 0.75 per cent. The committee does not sit again until February.
China’s Shanghai Composite opened little changed. Hong
Kong’s Hang Seng put on 0.7 per cent and Japan’s Nikkei 0.4 per cent. S&P 500 index futures were recently
down three points or 0.1 per cent.
Brent crude futures faded a cent or less than 0.1 per cent this morning to $US65.33 a barrel. Gold eased $1 or 0.1 per cent to $US1,479.50 an ounce.
What’s hot today and what’s not:
Hot today: biotech Antisense Therapeutics touched a two-month high after reporting progress with a drug for treating Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. The company will take the drug to what it describes as a “potentially pivotal” Phase IIb clinical trial after patients in a Phase II trial showed good tolerance and response. Shares touched 12 cents before paring their gain to 1.2 cents or 14.6 per cent at 9.4 cents.
Not today: Lynas’s struggles in Malaysia continued after the rare earths miner’s request to increase its processing limit was knocked back. The company had to rein in processing of lanthanide concentrate over the last few months while it waited to hear from the regulator. The regulator has now asked for additional reports and management plans before reconsidering the application. Share sagged 4.1 per cent.