The Australian sharemarket finished marginally in the green, with a fast food giant rocketing after reporting consumers were gobbling fried chicken at record levels, but a late sell-off curbed gains.
The local bourse was up about 1.2 per cent in intraday trade, but the S&P/ASX200 finished just 16.2 points or 0.22 per cent higher at 7256, while the All Ordinaries Index firmed 24.9 points or 0.33 per cent to 7587.4.
Before the last minute sell-off, CommSec analyst Tom Piotrowski said it was a continuation of a “grind higher” recovery staged on Monday when concerns around the new Covid variant caused an early plunge.
“Following the encouraging performance we saw from northern hemisphere markets on the whole last night, the local market picked up that trend,” he said.
OMG chief executive Ivan Tchourilov said it was an intense day.
“Omicron fears seem to have dissipated for the moment, so a Christmas bull run is definitely still on the cards,” he said.
The best performing stock in the top 200 was Collins Foods, a KFC franchisee in Australia, the Netherlands and Germany.
The group soared 12.62 per cent to $14.10 after booking a jump in half-year statutory net profit, saying KFC Europe was the standout, with revenue and earnings back above pre-pandemic levels.
“As dine in customers returned, drive-thru and delivery revenues continued to record high growth levels,” chief executive Drew O’Malley said.
The Taco Bell franchisee in Australia also reported a 33 per cent revenue leap for the Mexican chain, saying the spicy cuisine was the fastest-growing segment of the Australian fast food sector.
“We remain on track to open a record number of new restaurants this financial year,” Mr O’Malley said.
The second top performer in the benchmark index was Credit Corp Group, which announced it was buying Radio Rentals from Thorn Group for about $60m.
“Credit Corps’ expansion into the retail instalment sector marks a new move for the distressed debt buyer,” Mr Tchourilov said.
“The $60m price tag was funded from an existing war chest and cash flows will directly increase the bottom line.
“Part of the reason for the price jump was revised guidance as a result of the acquisition.”
Credit Corp advanced 8.57 per cent to $32.80, while Thorn rallied 10.87 per cent to 25.5 cents.
Mr Tchourilov said investors who picked up Flight Centre on Monday’s open – before huge volatility in its share price set in – would now be “stoked”, with the company picking up 4.47 per cent to $17.75 on Tuesday.
Other travel stocks also bounced back from the Omicron hit, despite the federal government deferring reopening borders to international students and other visa holders for a fortnight.
Qantas improved 3.27 per cent to $5.06, Webjet surged 5.19 per cent to $5.47, Corporate Travel Management lifted 4.74 per cent to $22.11 and Regional Express added 2.55 per cent to $1.41.
Among the banks, Macquarie Group rose 1.4 per cent to $196.74, ANZ gained 0.3 per cent to $26.70 and National Australia Bank rose 0.37 per cent to $27.30.
But Commonwealth Bank eased 0.64 per cent to $93.18 and Westpac slumped 1.9 per cent to $20.52.
Westpac and the corporate watchdog reached a $113m settlement over six civil penalty proceedings filed in the Federal Court over years of widespread compliance failures that affected thousands of consumers, some of which were raised during the Hayne royal commission.
CBA came under fire during that probe for charging financial advice fees to dead customers and now ASIC says Westpac did the same, pocketing more than $10m from more than 11,000 deceased people.
“Westpac has fallen short of our standards and the standards our customers expect of us,” chief executive Peter King said.
“The issues raised in these matters should not have occurred, and our processes, systems and monitoring should have been better.”
During its investor day presentation, AMP provided an update on its plan to de-merge its capital private markets business, delivering huge cost savings.
It was well received, with the share price gaining 2.99 per cent to $1.03.
“Like most prominent financial institutions, AMP is slimming down core operations and rolling off significant segments to be run independently,” Mr Tchourilov said.
After improved metal and ore prices overnight, BHP added 2.07 per cent to $39.37, but Rio Tinto backtracked 1.98 per cent to $93.50 and Fortescue gave up 3.35 per cent to $17.01.
“There’s been an important outcome in the past day when it comes to the outlook for iron ore prices: Vale, the Brazilian producer has tweaked its production forecast … they’ve lowered the top end of their guidance,” Mr Piotrowski said.
Lithium miner Orocobre surged 7.92 per cent to $10.22 after holding its annual general meeting and upgrading its Mt Cattlin 2021 calendar year production guidance.
The Aussie dollar was buying 71.14 US cents, 53.39 British pence and 62.88 Euro cents in afternoon trade.
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