The Australian sharemarket has given up most of its early gains, with tech stocks and consumer staples turning around to finish the day in the red.
The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index closed on Thursday up just 16.9 points, or 0.25 per cent, to 6,654.9 points, while the broader All Ordinaries was up 13.5 points, or 0.2 per cent, to 6,765.7 points.
“A bit of disappointing day today,” said CMC Markets chief market strategist Michael McCarthy.
The market surged at the open and was up as much as 45 points before noon, but “things quieted down” in the afternoon for modest gains, he observed.
The Australian market underperformed most of the region, Mr McCarthy said.
“It’s a bit puzzling too, given the gains we’ve seen for industrials and commodities overnight, other than oil,” he said.
Crude prices fell on reports that US President Donald Trump has considered easing sanctions on Iran as a way to restart negotiations with the country, sending shares of Australian oil and gas companies lower by an average of 1.2 per cent.
Woodside dropped 2.1 per cent to $31.51, Santos was down 0.9 per cent to $7.36 and Oil Search dropped 0.8 per cent to $7.30.
Tech stocks dropped 0.5 per cent with Isignthis plummeting 34 per cent to a five-week low of 93 cents.
The Melbourne-based payment and identity verification company has lost 43 per cent of its value in the past two-and-a-half days, but is still up sixfold on the year.
Elsewhere in the sector Afterpay dropped 0.9 per cent to $31.80, Altium dropped 1.4 per cent to $35.72 and Xero was down 1.8 per cent to $62.43.
Synlait Milk shares fell 12 per cent to a 10-month low of $8 after the Kiwi dairy producer revealed a below-expectation annual profit of $NZ82.2 million ($A76.85 million).
Property shares were the biggest gainers, up 1.1 per cent, with warehouse owner Goodman Group up 2.2 per cent to $13.74 and shopping mall owner Vicinity Centres up 1.9 per cent to $2.63.
Mr McCarthy said the trading had a defensive feel to it, with traders buying bond proxies such as property groups ahead of the European Central Bank’s meeting later on Thursday.
The ECB is widely expected to cut the cash rates but by 10 to 20 basis points, but the real question is whether it will reintroduce the bond-buying program known as quantitative easing, Mr McCarthy said.
The major banks, meanwhile, were all higher, with Commonwealth up 0.9 per cent to $81.35, Westpac up 0.2 per cent to $29.66, ANZ up 0.5 per cent to $27.59 and NAB up 0.6 per cent to $28.97.
The mining sector was up 0.5 per cent, with BHP up 0.1 per cent to $36.97, Rio Tinto up 0.6 per cent to $92.68 and Fortescue rising 2.7 per cent to $9.01.
Wesfarmers shares dropped 0.6 per cent to $39.37 after the Federal Court approved its takeover of lithium miner Kidman Resources, which is set to be delisted from the ASX after Friday’s close.
The Aussie dollar hit a fresh six-week high, buying 68.83 US cents, up from 68.73 US cents on Wednesday.
ON THE ASX
* The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index closed up 16.9 points, or 0.25 per cent, at 6,654.9 points.
* The All Ordinaries closed up 13.5 points, or 0.2 per cent, to 6,765.7 points.
* The SPI200 futures index closed up 11 points, or 0.17 per cent, to 6,648.
CURRENCY SNAPSHOT AT 1630 AEST
One Australian dollar buys:
* 68.83 US cents, from 68.73 US cents on Tuesday
* 74.34 Japanese yen, from 73.99 yen
* 64.49 euro cents, from 62.18 cents
* 55.78 British pence, from 55.60 pence
* 106.89 NZ cents, from 106.84 cents.