NIB & Medibank unveils delay in premium hike: ASX surges for 3rd day closes 0.3% higher

The much hoped Santa rally is here with a three day gain by the local bourse with a shortened trading day tomorrow as Christmas is around the corner. The local bourse traded up and down in periods of peaks on thin volume to close off the session at a two week high.

The local market was led by eight sectors advancing closing marginally near each other. Utilities led the bourse as the best performer adding 0.7 per cent, followed by property, and industrials both gaining 0.6 per cent, with financials, and healthcare both closing 0.5 per cent higher. Technology was the biggest decliner shedding 0.9 per cent while consumer staples lost 0.3 per cent. Communication services closed flat with the other sectors rallying.

Market participants also kept tabs on the Covid-19 cases as NSW continues to top the nation with confirmed cases, leading to NSW and Victoria indoor mask mandates emerging while NSW reintroduces QR code check-ins and density limits. This saw the XJO lose momentum but not enough to retreat.

Covid-19 medical players Sonic Healthcare (ASX:SHC), and Australian Clinical Labs (ASX:ACL) extended their rally as testing volumes surged ahead of Christmas closing 1.3 per cent and 2.8 per cent higher, respectively.

The major banks supported the index with modest gains. NAB (ASX:NAB) and ANZ (ASX:ANZ) both added 0.6 per cent, Westpac (ASX:WBC) rose 0.5 per cent, while Commonwealth Bank (ASX:CBA) closed 0.3 per cent higher.

Gold miners rose in lockstep with the price of precious yellow metal firming up with Regis Resources (ASX:RRL) and St Barbara (ASX:SBM) both surged 4.3 per cent, Newcrest Mining (ASX:NCM) gained 1.1 per cent, while Northern Star Resources (ASX:NST) closed 0.2 per cent higher.

Evolution Mining (ASX:EVN) added 2.3 per cent after they pulled out from its gold-focused joint venture with Enterprise Metals after results from 30 months of exploration “were not sufficient” to continue. The four-year deal started in June 2019 and earmarked Evolution to earn an 80 per cent interest in the project by spending $6 million on exploration.

Elsewhere, the dip in iron ore price didn’t help the miners with Fortescue Metals (ASX:FMG) losing 1.4 per cent, while BHP (ASX:BHP) fell 0.3 per cent and Rio Tinto (ASX:RIO) closed 0.1 per cent lower.

Syrah Resources (ASX:SYR) soared over 23 per cent to $1.63 after executing an offtake agreement with Tesla to supply a natural graphite active anode material which makes up the EV battery. The deal is for an initial term of four years. Shares galloped before they went into a trading halt this afternoon.

In the insurer space, NIB shares (ASX:NIB) added 1.3 per cent to $7.02 after the federal Minister for Health approved NIB’s proposed annual premium increase of 2.66 per cent for April 1, 2022, its smallest increase in 20 years. The health insurer also told shareholders that they are considering deferring the increase by three months.

Medibank (ASX:MPL) shares fell 0.3 per cent at $3.37 after unveiling its plans to return around $135 million in Covid-19 permanent net claims savings to customers, by deferring next year’s premium increases for five months. Similar moves to NIB, Medibank and ahm health insurance premiums were set to rise by an average of 3.10 per cent from 1 April 2022, which the insurer said is the lowest average premium increase in 21 years. However, it will now be postponed to September.

Shares in Bega Cheese (ASX:BFA) tumbled 10.3 per cent to $5.04 after the cheese manufacturer said that short term impacts from the pandemic amid a highly competitive milk-buying landscape are expected to impact financial year 2022 earnings. The company is forecasting normalised EBITDA in the range of $195 million to $215 million versus $142 million in the previous financial year. Bega was the worst performing stock of the session.

WiseTech Global (ASX:WTC) shares fell 2.6 per cent to $58.67 as the second worst performer after chief executive officer Richard White sold 4.3 million shares as a “small diversification” shift of his personal wealth. His stake in the company fell to 42 per cent, from 43.3 per cent.

Meanwhile, shares in Magellan (ASX:MFG) snapped its losing streak to surge 5.2 per cent higher at $20.96 after Hamish Douglass, chief investment officer and chairman reassured investors through a video interview after Monday’s 33 per cent tumble in the company’s share price following the loss of its biggest investment mandate. The mandate with St James’ Place made up about 12 per cent of annual group revenue. The interview comes after MorningStar analysts released a note saying that “these near-term headwinds are bumps in the road, not nails in the coffin. Its investing calibre and upside from growing distribution remain intact” amid a number of brokers downgrading the company’s broker rating, and target price.

Investors now look to Wall St with the major indexes on track to rally for its third day in a row, while Asian markets are moving higher. The ASX will close at 2.10pm AEDT tomorrow and resume on Wednesday, while Wall St is closed Friday and will reopen on Monday.

At the closing bell, the S&P/ASX 200 was 0.3 per cent or 23 points higher at 7,388.

Futures

The Dow Jones futures are pointing to a rise of 17 points.
The S&P 500 futures are pointing to a rise of 4 points.
The Nasdaq futures are pointing to a rise of 5 points.
The SPI futures are pointing to a rise of 20 points when the market next opens.

Best and worst performers

The best-performing sector was Utilities, up 0.7 per cent. The worst-performing sector was Information Technology, down 0.9 per cent.

The best-performing stock in the S&P/ASX 200 was Magellan Fin Group (ASX:MFG) closing 5.2 per cent higher at $20.96, followed by shares in Nickel Mines (ASX:NIC), and St Barbara (ASX:SBM).

The worst-performing stock in the S&P/ASX 200 was Bega Cheese (ASX:BGA) closing 10.3 per cent lower at $5.04, followed by shares in WiseTech Global (ASX:WTC), and Afterpay (ASX:APT).

Asian markets

Japan’s Nikkei has gained 0.5 per cent.
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng has gained 0.2 per cent.
China’s Shanghai Composite has gained 0.2 per cent.

Commodities and the dollar

Gold is trading at US$1806.90 an ounce.
Iron ore is 1.0 per cent lower at US$122.60 a ton.
Iron ore futures are pointing to a fall of 1.1 per cent.
Light crude is trading $0.19 higher at US$72.95 a barrel.
One Australian dollar is buying 72.11 US cents.