Australian Market Slightly Lower

The Australian stock market is slightly lower on Monday, giving up some of the sharp gains in the previous session, with the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 staying above the 7,400 level, following the broadly negative cues from Wall Street on Friday, with weakness in technology and gold mining stocks partially offset by strength in materials and energy stocks.

Meanwhile, the index pulled back from the day's lows after the release of data that showed a significantly better than expected rise in total number of building approvals issued in Australia in the month of November.

However, concern that the omicron variant will set back the fight against COVID-19 is also weighing on the market. Traders remain concerned over the rising domestic Covid-19 cases. New South Wales reported 20,293 new cases and 18 deaths on Monday and Victoria also reported 34,808 new cases and two deaths. Queensland recorded 9,581 new cases, ACT reported 938 new cases and Tasmania reported 1,218 new cases.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index is losing 5.10 points or 0.07 percent to 7,448.20, after hitting a low of 7,409.90 earlier. The broader All Ordinaries Index is down 8.10 points or 0.10 percent to 7,766.30. Australian stocks closed sharply higher on Friday.

Among the major miners, Rio Tinto and BHP Group are gaining almost 2 percent each, while Fortescue Metals is adding almost 3 percent and Mineral Resources is up almost 1 percent. OZ Minerals is losing almost 1 percent.

Oil stocks are higher, with Woodside Petroleum gaining almost 3 percent, Origin Energy up almost 1 percent, Santos adding 1.5 percent and Beach energy advancing almost 2 percent.

Among tech stocks, Appen is losing more than 1 percent, Afterpay is declining 2.5 percent, Xero is slipping more than 4 percent and WiseTech Global is sliding almost 4 percent.

Gold miners are lower. Evolution Mining is edging down 0.1 percent, Gold Road Resources is losing almost 3 percent, Resolute Mining slipping more than 2 percent and Northern Star Resources is down more than 1 percent, while Newcrest Mining is edging up 0.3 percent.

Among the big four banks, Commonwealth Bank is edging up 0.3 percent, while ANZ Banking and National Australia Bank are edging down 0.3 percent each. Westpac is flat.

In economic news, the total number of building approvals issued in Australia was up a seasonally adjusted 3.6 percent on month in November, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said on Monday - coming in at 16,448. That beat expectations for a flat reading following the 12.9 percent drop in October. Permits for private sector houses rose 1.4 percent on month to 10,892, while permits for private sector dwellings excluding houses jumped 9.7 percent to 5,315. On a yearly basis, permits for total dwellings sank 7.7 percent, permits for private sector houses dropped 8.1 percent and permits for private sector dwellings excluding houses fell 5.5 percent. The value of total building jumped 14.8 percent on month.

In the currency market, the Aussie dollar is trading at $0.718 on Monday.

On Wall Street, stocks fluctuated over the course of the trading day on Friday but finished the session mostly lower. While the Dow ended the day little changed, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq closed lower for the fourth consecutive session.

The major averages all closed in negative territory, with the tech-heavy Nasdaq showing a particularly steep drop. The Nasdaq tumbled 144.96 points or 1 percent to 14,935.90, while the S&P 500 fell 19.02 points or 0.4 percent to 4,677.03 and the Dow edged down 4.81 points or less than a tenth of a percent to 36,231.66.

Meanwhile, the major European markets ended the day mixed. While the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index rose 0.5 percent, the French CAC 40 Index fell by 0.4 percent and the German DAX Index slid by 0.7 percent.

Crude oil prices drifted lower on Friday, but still finished the week with a strong gain on supply concerns amid escalating unrest in Kazakhstan and outages in Libya. West Texas Intermediate Crude oil futures for February ended down by $0.56 or 0.7 percent at $78.90 a barrel. WTI Crude futures gained 4.9 percent in the week.

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