Banks, miners keep ASX in the green

·3-min read

Surging Omicron infections clouded sentiment in the Australian share market on the penultimate trading session for the year, with modest gains in the heavyweight banking and mining sectors keeping the indices in positive territory.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index closed just 3.6 points, or 0.05 per cent higher, at 7513.4 points on Thursday.

The All Ordinaries index edged up 3.4 points, or 0.04 per cent, to 7843.7 points.

Sentiment in the local market was in line with listless trading across the Asia-Pacific region, with sentiment subdued by surging case numbers of the Omicron coronavirus variant, even as many countries chose to relax rules rather than lockdown, in an effort to limit the economic damage.

Australia's major states again reported record-setting numbers. NSW reported 12,226 new cases, Victoria had 5137 infections and 13 deaths, and Queensland hit a record 2222 cases.

The local market saw mixed trading amid thin trading volumes.

"We are seeing a lot of movement because of the light volumes and it is different across categories," Burman Invest chief investment officer Julia Lee said.

"The top 20 and the mid caps are relatively flat, but smaller companies are down. That suggests a little bit of money is being taken off the table."

Financials and materials were the only major sectors holding up the market.

Three of the four major banks closed higher, with only ANZ dropping 0.2 per cent lower to $27.81.

Magellan Financial continued its recovery after sliding last week, and rose another 3.7 per cent to $21.72.

Among the big iron ore miners, BHP and Rio Tinto were up about 1.0 per cent each while Fortescue closed 0.7 per cent lower at $19.14.

Lithium producer Pilbara Minerals continued its upward march, rising 1.9 per cent to $3.23, but safe-haven gold explorers turned weaker as risk appetite returned for investors.

Supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths saw marginal gains, while shares in Bega Cheese jumped 3.2 per cent to $5.50 after news that billionaire Andrew Forrest's private investment group Tattarang has acquired a 6.6 per cent stake in the owner of the Vegemite and Farmers Union brands.

Among the major losers, healthcare stocks lost ground weighed down by losses in Healius, Mesoblast as well as biotech giant CSL.

Energy stocks also had a poor run, with Woodside and Santos both down around 0.4 per cent, while pipeline giant APA Group's shares lost 1.7 per cent to $10.25.

The buy now, pay later sector was again under pressure with Afterpay and Zip Co dropping 3.0 per cent and 1.8 per cent respectively.

Travel-related shares were weaker amid the rising number of virus cases. Qantas, Flight Centre and Sydney Airport were each down between 0.1 and 0.6 per cent.

Meanwhile, the Australian dollar firmed up, buying 72.50 US cents at 1700 AEDT, compared to 72.31 US cents at Wednesday's close.

ON THE ASX

* The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index closed just 3.6 points, or 0.05 per cent higher, at 7513.4 points on Thursday.

* The All Ordinaries index edged up 3.4 points, or 0.04 per cent, to 7843.7 points.

* At 1700 AEDT, the SPI200 futures index was unchanged at 7435 points.

CURRENCY SNAPSHOT

One Australian dollar buys:

* 72.50 US cents, from 72.31 cents on Wednesday

* 83.44 Japanese yen, from 83.05 yen

* 64.01 Euro cents, from 63.95 cents

* 53.78 British pence, from 53.83 pence

* 106.12 NZ cents, from 106.37 cents.

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