Australian shares endured a wild ride on Thursday, gyrating throughout the session as a swathe of conflicting headlines on trade talks between the United States and China saw investor sentiment change in the blink of an eye.
After three trips into negative territory and two ventures into the black, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index eventually finished the session flat, inching up 0.01 per cent, or 0.4 points, to close at 6547.1.
The choppy price action mirrored the release times of various headlines that conveyed both positive and negative news on the prospects for a deal during trade talks between the US and China scheduled to begin on Thursday.
One minute the Chinese trade delegation were leaving early, then they weren't, then they were again. There were also reports of a currency pact being offered by the US to avert a planned increase in tariffs on Chinese goods next week. Separately, another report suggested US officials are considering allowing some US firms to supply non-sensitive components to giant Chinese tech company Huawei.
"The takeaway from the conflicting messages...[is] that there lacks a middle ground between the two sides, and even if any interim deal should be agreed upon it may be built on fragile relations," Jingyi Pan, Market Strategist at IG Markets in Singapore, told clients.
Given the uncertainty, it's little wonder why the local market went nowhere on Thursday. The performance by individual sector was mixed.
REITs fell 0.6 per cent, outpacing declines of 0.5 per cent for energy, 0.4 per cent for resources and 0.3 per cent apiece for utilities and information technology. Gold miners were also pressured with the S&P/All Ords gold index sliding 0.9 per cent.
Those losses were offset by a 0.5 per cent bounce in consumer staples, recovering from heavy falls on Wednesday that were sparked by a weak Australian consumer sentiment report for October. Healthcare added 0.3 per cent while industrials and telecommunications both gained 0.2 per cent.
After sitting lower for most of the session, a late flurry of buying in financials saw it close up less than 0.1 per cent, helping the benchmark index finish flat.
By individual stock, packaging company Orora soared 13.9 per cent to $3.11 after announcing an asset sale to the market before the start of trade. Biotech firm Polynovo also enjoyed a strong day, jumping 11.9 per cent to $2.54.
After jumping by 60 per cent on Wednesday, shares in biopharmaceutical firm Clinuvel Pharma succumbed to profit-taking, sliding 14.8 per cent to close at $38.36. Gold miner Resolute Mining slumped 11.2 per cent to $1.265 following an unexpected production outage while shares in retailer Harvey Norman slid 5 per cent to $4.18 after trading they started trading ex-dividend.
- SMH/The Age