The ASX200 closed 0.1 per cent higher for the day at 5116.7 while the All Ordinaries was up 0.1 per cent to 5167.7Australian shares lost strong early gains recorded in morning trade on Tuesday, but just managed to finish in the black amid thin trading volumes and another strong performance from energy stocks.
Wall Street closed 0.7 per cent higher and the local market was initially higher on the strong lead. However, the ASX200 closed 0.1 per cent higher for the day at 5116.7 while the All Ordinaries was up 0.1 per cent to 5167.7.
“We reversed the early gain and finished pretty flat,” said CMC Markets chief market analyst Ric Spooner.
“Basically there was a bit of profit-taking and reversal in the banks seems to have been the key change throughout the day.”
Mr Spooner said trading volumes, at under $3 billion, was only about three-quarters of the usual amount.
IG market analyst Angus Nicholson said the session was “a battle between the large caps and the rest”.
The big four banks, Telstra, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto – which account for 43 per cent of the index – were “a serious drag”, he said.
“All of these blue chips were down despite 140 listings rising on the day. This was a very rare occurrence, which seems more likely to be attributable to the very low pre-Christmas volumes, which were 38 per cent below the 30-day moving average.
“The biggest surprise of the day was the very strong performance in the energy sector, which gained 0.9 per cent on the day despite the ongoing sell off in the oil price.
“The index hugged close to the 5100 level again and looks to continue around these levels for the rest of the week.”
The big four banks all dropped: ANZ 0.4 per cent to $26.68, Commonwealth Bank 0.3 per cent to $81.67, National Australia Bank 0.1 per cent to $28.78 and Westpac 0.8 per cent to $32.
BHP fell 1.7 per cent to $16.83, Rio slipped 1.5 per cent to $42.23 and Telstra shed 0.2 per cent to $5.43.
Brent crude oil was down a further 1.4 per cent to $US36.39 per barrel, but energy stocks did well: Woodside put on 0.6 per cent to $27.30, Santos shot up 3 per cent to $3.71, and Oil Search added 0.8 per cent to $6.15.
Origin Energy, however, lost 1.8 per cent to $4.38 after acting to protect itself from a further dive in crude oil prices, paying $82 million for “put” options for oil and forward selling cargoes from its new $24.7 billion liquefied natural gas project in Queensland.
Managing director Grant King said that as oil prices continued to slide, Origin had taken measures to reduce the risk of potentially having to make additional payments for the Australia Pacific LNG project beyond the $1.8 billion announced in August.
Woolworths had a busy news day, firstly announcing it would be tapping billions of dollars in Chinese consumer spending and demand for Australian food and grocery products by setting up shop on China’s largest online business-to-consumer market, Alibaba’s Tmall Global.
Australia’s largest supermarket retailer said it had engaged China-based e-commerce company eCargo Holdings to build and manage a Woolworths store front on Tmall Global, while eCargo will also coordinate Woolworths’ inventory, packing and distribution requirements, advise on its entry strategy and take charge of a range of digital and social marketing activities.
Woolworths also welcomed the appointment of former OrotonGroup boss Sally Macdonald to run BIG W, saying the move is another sign that Woolworths plans to sell or demerge its general merchandise business.
Ms Macdonald, 45, had been appointed chief executive of its general merchandise business, which includes BIG W and online retailer EziBuy, taking the helm from acting BIG W chief executive Penny Winn.
Woolworths shares were steady at $23.57.
James Packer’s decision to quit his board role with Crown Resorts may spur ongoing privatisation talks by reducing any perceived conflicts of interest during negotiations, according to Deutsche Bank.
Mr Packer owns 53 per cent of Crown via his investment vehicle Consolidated Press Holdings and is considering privatising the casino operator as part of ongoing discussions with private equity investors and pension funds.
Crown finished 1.3 per cent higher at $12.24.
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