Markets wrap: ASX within a whisker of record high before miners trigger an afternoon fade

The Australian Stock Exchange came within a whisker of setting a new record on Wednesday before the mining sector dragged it down.

The Australian sharemarket was tantalisingly close to an all-time high on Wednesday before losses across the mining and energy sectors triggered an afternoon fade.

A strong Wall Street lead helped benchmark ASX 200 march to 7624.8 in the first hour of trade, with just eight points separating it from the record of 7632.6 set on August 13 last year.

Healthcare stocks did the heavy lifting, with private hospital operator Ramsay Health jumping 24 per cent to $80 after getting a $20b bid from a consortium led by private equity giant KKR.

But a soft session for mining titans BHP, Rio Tinto, and Fortescue Metals got worse around lunchtime to drag the bourse away from its lofty heights.

The market still finished narrowly in front for the day at 7569.2, adding 4 points or 0.1 per cent as it recorded its sixth best finish in history.

The gain was even more narrow for the All Ordinaries, with the wider index adding just 1.8 points to finish flat at 7869.7.

The Australian dollar climbed to 74.11 US cents at the local close.

Commodity prices retreated after the IMF downgraded its global growth forecasts and China committed to cutting its steel production this year.

OANDA Asia-Pacific analyst Jeffrey Halley said China disappointed markets looking for more comprehensive stimulus measures as it left both its one and five-year loan prime rates unchanged.

“China continues to stay wedded to deleveraging parts of the economy while attempting to add stimulus in a targeted sector manner,” he said.

“However, the Shanghai lockdown and fears its Covid-zero policy will crimp growth this year continue to weigh on markets that clearly want more than the usual cast-of-thousands stimulus measures from years past.”

Australia’s resources sector duly wilted, with only a couple of coal miners, rare earths firm Lynas, and lithium players Piedmont Energy, IGO, and Vulcan Energy managing a gain.

BHP lost 1.6 per cent to close at $52.30 and Rio Tinto dropped 2.8 per cent to end the day at $118.30.

Fortescue Metals was 0.2 per cent lower at $21.68 and Champion Iron lost 2.7 per cent to $7.67, while gold miner Newcrest slipped 1.1 per cent to $28.52.

Oil prices retreated, dragging Woodside Petroleum 0.7 per cent lower to $32.68 and Santos 1.1 per cent down to $8.23.

AGL Energy fell 3.2 per cent to $8.52 after warning its Loy Yang coal-power station had suffered an operational problem.

At the other end of the ledger was the healthcare contingent, rising alongside a rocketing Ramsay.

Blood giant CSL rose 0.8 per cent to close at $264.50, Cochlear climbed 1.2 per cent to $227.20, Resmed added 2.2 per cent to finish at $32.27, Sonic Healthcare was up 2.5 per cent at $36.37, and Fisher and Paykel closed the day 2.5 per cent ahead at $20.94.

Pro Medicus finished 5.2 per cent ahead at $51.61 and Healius was up 3.6 per cent to $4.56.

The tech sector was mixed but there was still a 2.5 per cent gain for Block Inc and a 0.9 per cent rise for Xero.

Woolworths boosted consumer staples with a 1.1 per cent rise to $39.05 and rival supermarket Coles rose 1.3 per cent to $18.58.

Bunnings owner Wesfarmers jumped 1.7 per cent to $49.33 and was joined in the winner’s circle by Aristocrat Leisure, which added 0.6 per cent to finish at $33.04.

ANZ was the strongest of the big banks, adding 0.6 per cent to close at $27.91. Commonwealth Bank gained 0.2 per cent to $107.24, NAB finished 0.1 per cent higher at $33.27, and Macquarie Group rose 0.6 per cent to $206.67, but Westpac dropped 0.2 per cent to $24.36.