ASX ends flat as CSL weighs on bourse; Bitcoin surges over $US50,000

By Sumeyya Ilanbey
Updated

Welcome to your five-minute recap of the trading day, and how experts saw it.

The numbers

The Australian sharemarket closed slightly lower for the second consecutive session as disappointing results from companies such as Seek, Macquarie Group, Breville and James Hardie and extended declines from market giant CSL weighed on the bourse.

The S&P/ASX 200 dipped 11.30 points, or 0.15 per cent, to 7603.60 at the close. Utilities (up 0.71 per cent) were the strongest performing sector, while healthcare stocks (down 1.64 per cent) recorded the greatest declines. The rest of the benchmark was fairly muted.

Wall Street gave no clear direction for the Australian sharemarket.
Wall Street gave no clear direction for the Australian sharemarket.Credit: AP

The lifters

Consumer-related stocks rose after the Westpac Consumer Sentiment Index lifted to the highest in almost two years amid moderating inflation, hopes of rate cuts later this year and the amended Stage 3 tax cuts that will benefit low and middle-income earners.

JB Hi-Fi was the best performing mega-cap stock on the index, its shares rising 5.58 per cent. Online furniture seller Temple & Webster’s share price soared 9.88 per cent after boosting its half-year sales by a quarter thanks to an increase in both first-time and repeat customers.

Other strong large-caps were IDP Education (up 3.11 per cent), Newmont Corporation (up 2.03 per cent) and Ramsay Health Care (up 1.86 per cent).

The laggards

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Having plunged 4.84 per cent on Monday over its failed trial of a key heart attack prevention treatment, blood products giant CSL extended its declines. Shares of the company, which is the third-largest on the ASX, slumped a further 2.75 per cent even after it reported a 20 per cent jump in half-year profit.

Investors were also unimpressed with the half-yearly results of white goods maker Breville (shares down 8.49 per cent) despite a 6.7 per cent rise in profit. Employment site Seek fell 4.55 per cent on the back of declining revenue and profit amid weaker job ad numbers, and Kerry Stokes’ Seven West Media tanked 10.91 per cent after it reported a 53 per cent crash in TV advertising revenue.

Building materials maker James Hardie, which reported adjusted earnings of $US280.4 million ($429.4 million) in the third quarter of fiscal 2024, with a profit margin of 28.7 per cent, declined 8.46 per cent after warning the outlook in the global housing markets it operates in remains uncertain.

Shares in investment bank Macquarie dropped 1 per cent after it warned its net profit was “substantially down” on the previous year this financial year so far, and announced its highest-paid banker, Nicholas O’Kane, would exit the bank at the end of the month.

Meanwhile, NAB’s monthly business survey showed business confidence softened further in January, led by a slowdown in the service sector.

“Confidence remains weak as it has for some time, consistent with ongoing pressures across the economy with growth clearly slowing in the back half of 2023, and cost growth still high notwithstanding some easing over [the second half of] 2023,” NAB chief economist Alan Oster said.

“Rates will remain high for much of the year, and price pressures are still a concern against a raft of global uncertainty,” he said. “We will keep a close watch on how confidence evolves through early 2024 as price pressures ease further and the focus on the easing phase of the rates cycle grows.”

The lowdown

MPC Markets chief executive Mark Gardner said trading volumes were fairly muted on Tuesday as investors await key US inflation and Australian unemployment data this week, and China’s stock market shut for the Lunar New Year.

“ASX was fairly flat, it’s very focused on earnings at the moment,” Gardner said. “Temple and Webster had a really good result, JB Hi-Fi flows on from yesterday as we’re still getting the tail end of the Christmas spending. Those retailers, like Temple and Webster and Nick Scali or Cettire, are doing well, but your run-of-the-mill retailers are suffering a little bit.”

Overnight on Wall Street, weaker tech stocks pulled the Nasdaq composite down by 0.3 per cent. The Dow Jones rose by 0.3 per cent to set its latest record, while the S&P 500 softened by 0.09 per cent.

Bitcoin jumped to $US50,000 for the first time in more than two years, staging a remarkable comeback from a series of crypto industry scandals and bankruptcies that had raised questions about the viability of digital assets.

The original cryptocurrency has tripled in value since the start of last year, climbing back from a 64 per cent plunge in 2022. Bitcoin last traded at $US50,000 in December 2021. The price is still below the all-time high of almost $US69,000 reached in November 2021.

Conditions were calm across markets, and yields were also stable in the bond market. The next big event for global investors could be this week’s US update on inflation, which economists expect to show a drop back below the 3 per cent level.

Big companies in the S&P 500 have mostly been reporting better results than expected for the final three months of 2023. More than two-thirds of the companies in the index have already reported their results, but several big names are still to come this upcoming week. They include Coca-Cola on Tuesday, Kraft Heinz on Wednesday and Southern Co. on Thursday.

The smallest companies in the market, meanwhile, are still in the relatively early days of their profit reporting season. But they’ve been beating analysts’ expectations by even more than their big rivals, according to Bank of America strategists.

Worries have grown about how top-heavy the stock market has become, where the seven biggest companies have accounted for a disproportionate amount of the S&P 500’s rally to a record. If more companies aside from the group known as the “Magnificent Seven” can deliver strong profit growth, it could soften the criticism that the market has become too expensive.

Another worry for the market has been uncertainty about just how much danger lurks for the economy in the loans and other holdings banks have on their balance sheets that are tied to commercial real estate.

The widespread expectation, even among top US government officials, is that weakness for office buildings and other commercial projects will mean at least some pain for banks. But no one can say how much for sure.

Bitcoin hit $US50,000 for the first time since 2021.
Bitcoin hit $US50,000 for the first time since 2021. Credit: Getty

In the bond market, yields were moving very little. The yield on the 10-year Treasury slipped to 4.16 per cent from 4.18 per cent, late on Friday.

The two-year Treasury yield, which more closely tracks expectations for the Federal Reserve, held at 4.48 per cent, where it was late Friday.

Inflation has been cooling enough that the Federal Reserve has hinted it may cut its main interest rate several times this year. Such cuts typically juice financial markets and the economy, and they would release pressure that’s built up since the Fed has taken its main interest rate to the highest level since 2001.

After earlier hoping cuts to rates could begin as soon as March, traders have since pushed their forecasts out to May or June. Reports showing the US economy and job market remain remarkably solid, along with some comments from Fed officials, have been forcing the delays.

If the Fed ends up making traders wait even longer than expected for rate cuts, it could upset stock prices that have already shot upward on the assumption of lots of good news, according to Marc Dizard, chief investment strategist at PNC Asset Management Group.

Besides lower interest rates, that also includes stronger convictions for no recession for the US economy, inflation continuing to come down and corporate profits growing more strongly.

“There isn’t a whole lot more than can really go right,” he said.

Tweet of the day

Quote of the day

“Despite the perceived slowing of interest rate increases and equity markets being up, market activity in mergers and acquisitions still has not picked up, confidence has not returned, and activity levels have not returned. We are finding in sales processes where previously we’ve had five buyers, there may be two,” Macquarie chief executive Shemara Wikramanayake said as she flagged a significant fall in net profit.

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Source: Thanks smh.com