Buoyant banks boost ASX

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The ASX pulled higher on Thursday, with gains in the banking sector helping the benchmark to its first positive session in four days.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 31 points, or 0.5 per cent, to 5977. The broader All Ordinaries rose 30 points, or 0.5 per cent, to 6060.

The Australian dollar traded at US75.46?? after taking centre stage on Thursday, with traders selling out of the currency immediately after the release of disappointing October trade data.

The Aussie is approaching the US75?? level and Morgan Stanley equity strategists suggested that investors should position for the currency to fall even further.

They've pencilled in a level of US65?? by the first quarter of 2019 and said that they see good alpha opportunity around positioning in stocks that will benefit from the forecast decline in the currency.

"These can be true global growers, US-centric, largely translators or domestic beneficiaries," they said.

Australian dollar-exposed companies advancing on Thursday included Treasury Wines Estates, with the wine maker up 1.7 per cent at $16.12.

Meanwhile, banks were taking back some losses made over the past week in the wake of last week's news that the sector is facing a royal commission.

CBA ended the session up 0.5 per cent at $78.97, NAB climbed 0.8 per cent to $29.68, ANZ rose 0.9 per cent to $28.48 and Westpac advanced 1.3 per cent to $31.38

Metal markets have seen some big moves this week, with copper falling sharply on Tuesday and iron ore sagging on Wednesday amid concern about the outlook for the Chinese economy coupled with a stronger US dollar.

Australian-listed miners dropped again on Thursday, with BHP down 0.2 per cent at $27.14, South32 lower by 0.6 per cent at $3.22 and Fortescue down 0.4 per cent at $4.57.

A handful of companies updated their investors on corporate developments, with Nufarm falling 1 per cent after it warned its half-year earnings would suffer from weak November trade and a temporary maintenance shutdown of its Victorian facility.

A2 Milk shares fell 3 per cent to $7.14 after the milk producer settled out of court with Lion Dairy & Drinks over a long-running dispute about the rights to use the term "A2 protein" on their labels.

Other big decliners included BT Investment, down 4 per cent, and Vocus, down 4.4 per cent.

Brokers weighed in as well on Thursday, with salmon producer Tassal Group falling 6.5 per cent to $3.60 after a downgrade to underweight at JPMorgan.

-With wires

Stockwatch

Confectionary company Yowie rallied 14.7 per cent to 19?? a share on Thursday after management announced an expansion into the US via key distributors. Retailers Albertsons, Bookshire Bros. Bed Bath and Beyond and Five Below will stock Yowie's chocolates, with management expecting the partnership move to result in an increase in sales in the first half of 2018. As a result of the deal, Yowie stock will be available in 8000 stores across America including 1250 Target sites after a successful 300-store trial earlier this year. CEO Mark Schuessler said that the Yowie brand has a significant scope for further market penetration. The company's shares have dropped 71 per cent year-to-date.

Oil

Oil prices inched up on Thursday on a decrease in US crude inventories, but rising gasoline stocks and crude production weighed on the market. US West Texas Intermediate crude futures were up 0.2 per cent at $56.07 a barrel, while Brent crude futures, the international benchmark for oil prices, were up 0.3 per cent at $61.39 a barrel. Traders said the higher prices came as US crude oil inventories fell by 5.6 million barrels in the week to Dec.1, to 448.1 million barrels, putting stocks below seasonal levels in 2015 and 2016.

NZ house prices

New Zealand's house prices jumped in November as buyers rushed to get in ahead of new government regulations to crack down on property speculation slated for the first quarter of next year. Quotable Value's residential property price index surged 6.4 per cent in the year to November, dramatically picking up the pace from a five-year low of 3.9 per cent the previous month. The new centre-left Labour government, which took the helm in October, vowed to introduce rules to dampen property speculation, including a ban on foreigners buying existing homes and expanding taxes imposed on investment properties.

China banks

China's banks should increase their capital buffers to protect against any sudden economic downturn following a credit boom, the International Monetary Fund said. In its first comprehensive assessment of China's financial system since 2011, the IMF recommended "a gradual and targeted increase in bank capital." In a worst-case scenario, IMF stress tests suggested the country's lenders would face a capital shortfall equivalent to 2.5 per cent of China's GDP - about $280 billion in 2016 - together with ballooning soured loans. Overall, 27 of 33 banks stress-tested by the fund, covering about three quarters of China's banking-system assets, were under-capitalised by at least one measure.

Asia

Asian equities were mixed, with stocks rising in Japan, falling in China and South Korea and fluctuating in Hong Kong. In Japan, the Nikkei 225 Stock Average recovered some of its worst slide in nine months after US stocks steadied. The MSCI Asia Pacific Index was up after falling for eight consecutive days to Wednesday. "Japanese stocks will probably regain their calm as the currency market hasn't fallen into a typical risk-off vicious circle after the selloff in Asian stocks yesterday," said Juichi Wako, a senior strategist at Nomura Securities Co. in Tokyo. "Shares are looking cheaper."

This story Buoyant banks boost ASX first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.