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Aussie shares are a touch higher at lunch as a new holidayshortened week kicks off. The ASX 200 index is up 0.5 per cent to 5,414.3 with almost all sectors improving, despite a mixed lead from Wall Street overnight. This is adding to last week’s 6.3 per cent gain, which was the best weekly perform for local equities since December 2011. The ASX 200 remains down 19 per cent so far this calendar year.

This is set to be a big week for markets. Highlights will include the March read of Australia’s labour market out Thursday, quarterly updates from WPL, CTX, WHC, RIO, OZL and LYC, some of the largest banks in the US posting their latest earnings and a barrage of economic updates out of China.

A highlight over the past 24 hours has been major oil producing nations finalising a record cut in oil production. This puts a temporary end to a price war between heavyweights Russia and Saudi Arabia. OPEC+ agreed to reduce oil output by a massive 10 million barrel per day for two months. This accounts for around 10 per cent of pre-COVID-19 crisis oil demand.

On the economic front this morning, a monthly read of Australian business confidence slumped to its lowest read on record, down from -2pts in February to -66pts in March. Business conditions fell from 0pts to -21pts. Both readings hit all-time lows and highlights what is likely to be a period of cautious hiring.

Childcare centre operator, G8 Education (GEM) has raised $227m from institutional investors at a discounted $0.80 per share. GEM is up by 5.8 per cent today to $1.05 per share.

Funeral home operator, Invocare (IVC) is in a trading halt as it taps investors for ~$200m. IVC said this is ‘to maintain the momentum of its growth initiatives and further strengthen its balance sheet
during COVID-19’.

Healius (HLS) said it will defer its interim dividend by six months to October 15. It has experienced a 40 per cent decline in revenue for its Imaging business.

Afterpay (APT) is up 10 per cent after announcing a solid lift in sales over the March quarter. While it has experienced a slowdown in growth from mid-March due to government shutdowns, it sees no need to raise capital and continues to see strong demand online.

Virgin Australia (VAH) has requested a trading halt as ‘it continues to consider the issues brought about’ by the COVID-19 crisis. VAH shares have slumped by 42 per cent so far this year as government imposed travel restrictions and closed borders have resulted in grounded planes.

2.2bn shares have changed hands so far worth $3.5bn. 764 stocks are up, 374 down and 304 are unchanged.

Published by CommSec