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Local shares started the last session of the week by trading in a narrow range over the course of Friday morning, reflecting a mixed session on Wall Street overnight. The ASX 200 opened with a gain of 10 points, Which was quickly surrendered, as lunch loomed the Index recovered to be ahead by 0.2%.

Northern hemisphere investors grappled with the same themes as Asian participants a day earlier, after Chinese authorities announced a new methodology for measuring coronavirus cases. The new diagnostic process saw daily new coronavirus cases surge by 15,408 cases on February 12. That compares with daily new cases rising by only 1,820 the previous day and a previous peak of 3,925 on February 4. However, the World Health Organisation said the increase doesn’t necessarily mean a sudden surge in new infections, as many cases were dated back days and weeks ago.

US stocks slumped initially, followed by a recovery that highlighted the resilience of investor sentiment towards stocks. However, by the close of trade, sellers got the better of the three leading indices, which were all lower led by the Dow Jones Index; down by 128 points or 0.4% after being down 205 points. The S&P500 index fell by 0.2%. And the Nasdaq fell by 14 points or 0.1%.

In ASX sector terms, the Energy led the falls. Overnight, the International Energy Agency said that it expects oil demand in the first quarter of 2020 to fall for the first time in 10 years, before picking up from the second quarter. Elsewhere, recent figures show that Japan was the largest buyer of Australian LNG in 2019, finishing just ahead of China. The gap between Japan and China narrowed again in 2019, although China finished the year strongly, buying more Australian LNG than Japan in the December quarter. Woodside Petroleum (WPL) and Santos (STO) were each down by ~1% at lunch.

Gold prices edged higher overnight reflecting an appetite for safe havens, after the number of reported coronavirus cases surged in China. Although ASX gold names were immune to the fortunes of the yellow metal, with most leading names lower at lunch. Newcrest Mining (NCM) were at $28.43 for a loss of -60 cents or 2.1%, Northern Star (NST) shares were lower at $13.46, after falling 2.1% or 30 cents.

Shares in Baby Bunting (BBY) were 0.5% lower at lunch after reporting results. The infant goods retailer said that first half earnings rose, helped by increased sales in its Baby Bunting labelled and exclusive products. Pro-forma profit rose by 31% to $7.51 million, while statutory profit edged higher by 0.6% to $4.838 million in the six month period to the end of December. Revenue over the same period increased by 5.0% to $186.39 million. The group re-affirmed full year guidance for pro forma NPAT guidance of $20-$22m, and announced an interim fully franked dividend of 4.1 cents per share, up from 3.3 cents last year.

The Aussie dollar pared back some of its recent gains overnight, reflecting heightened awareness about the spread of the coronavirus in recent days. The local unit initially traded higher overnight, reaching as high as 67.40 US cents, at which point the currency retreated, and maintained the weakness in early Asian trade to be at 67.20 US cents a short time ago.

Published by CommSec