Tech stocks lead ASX fall, Battle for Virtus Health continues: Aus shares down 0.8% at noon

The Aussie sharemarket is swimming in negative territory this morning following a strong lead from Wall Street. The technology sector is leading today’s losses, followed by materials and consumer discretionary, while consumer staples and financials are the only two sectors trading higher.

Battery-maker Novonix (ASX:NVX) is leading tech’s decline following a heavy fall on the Nasdaq overnight. Shares are trading 7.2 per cent lower at $6.74, and the company is the worst-performing stock. This is followed by Afterpay owner Block (ASX:SQ2), which is down 6.8 per cent to $178.37 as the second-worst stock. 

Oil and gold prices settled lower overnight which has led to weakness in both energy stocks and gold miners.

Beach Energy (ASX:BPT) has fallen 1.3 per cent to $1.57, Santos (ASX:STO) is down 1.2 per cent to $8.00 and Woodside Petroleum (ASX:WPL) is trading 0.7 per cent lower at $33.71.

Onto gold, Northern Star (ASX:NST) has dropped 4 per cent to $10.13, Evolution Mining (ASX:EVN) has fallen 3.5 per cent to $4.19 and Newcrest Mining (ASX:NCM) is trading 3.1 per cent lower at $26.40.

Heavyweight miners are also contributing to today’s fall, led by Rio Tinto (ASX:RIO) down 1.8 per cent to $118.05. BHP (ASX:BHP) is down 1.7 per cent to $51.05 and Fortescue Metals (ASX:FMG) is trading 0.2 per cent lower at $21.68.

Macquarie Group (ASX:MQG) is weighing on major banks, on news that the European infrastructure fund of Macquarie is set to sell Germany’s Open Grid Europe as reported by Reuters. Shares are trading 1.4 per cent lower at $204.26.

On a brighter note, Commonwealth Bank (ASX:CBA) has added 0.9 per cent to $105.33, ANZ Banking (ASX:ANZ) is up 0.6 per cent to $27.19, Westpac (ASX:WBC) is up 0.3 per cent to $24.11 and National Australia Bank (ASX:NAB) is trading 0.1 per cent higher at $32.21.

At noon, the S&P/ASX 200 is 0.8 per cent or 56.9 points lower at 7471.

The SPI futures are pointing to a fall of 59 points.

What else to look out for?

Morgan Stanley reinstated the coverage for GrainCorp (ASX:GNC) to overweight with a $10 price target. Shares are trading 0.6 per cent lower at $8.41.

After the proposed merger with Pendal Group (ASX:PDL), Perpetual’s (ASX:PPT) share price recovered yesterday. Citi believes the merger would likely be earnings per share accretive by as much as mid to high single digits. The broker has retained its buy rating and target price of $40. Shares in Perpetual (ASX:PPT) are trading 1.5 per cent higher at $32.86.

Coles (ASX:COL) could get a bit of attention today amid an AFR report that Wesfarmers (ASX:WES) sold a $500 million stake in the supermarket giant, which is equivalent to a 2.1 per cent stake in the company at a 1.8 per cent discount to the closing price yesterday of $17.75. Shares in Coles (ASX:COL) are trading 0.2 per cent higher at $18.11, while shares in Wesfarmers (ASX:WES) are trading 0.9 per cent lower at $49.23.

Company news

The takeover battle continues for IVF operator Virtus Health (ASX:VRT) after private equity firm BGH Capital came back with an off-market takeover offer of $8.00 per share. This comes after Virtus received an offer at $8.25 via a scheme of arrangement from rival buyout firm CapVest. Keeping in mind BGH owns a 19.99 per cent stake in Virtus already, its offer was structured to allow BGH to start buying from today. Shares in Virtus (ASX:VRT) are 0.5 per cent higher at $8.11.

Ventia (ASX:VNT) has been granted a two-year contract extension by the Commonwealth Government to deliver property management services to 39 Government entities across 650 properties. The contract extension runs from July 1 this year and is expected to generate around $270 million in revenue for the company. Shares are trading 0.4 per cent higher at $2.57.

Meanwhile, Crown Resorts (ASX:CWN) has been informed by the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission that it is deciding what action should be taken regarding Crown’s use of the China UnionPay process. The company said it will fully cooperate on this matter. Shares are trading 0.4 per cent lower at $12.80.

PolyNovo (ASX:PNV) has reported record March quarter revenue of $12.26 million, up 59.3 per cent from the same period a year ago. Year-to-date revenue came in at $30.42 million with a run rate circa $48 million per annum. Shares are trading 4.6 per cent higher at $1.13, and is the top performer.

Heartland Group (ASX:HGH) announced that it has expanded its strategic management group and made changes to its executive team. Michael Drumm has been appointed chief operating officer of Heartland. Andy Wood will take over as chief risk officer of Heartland Bank from April 11. Shares are in trading halt, and last traded at $2.11.

Best and worst performers

The best-performing sector is consumer staples, up 0.4 per cent. The worst-performing sector is information technology, down 3.3 per cent.

The best-performing stock in the S&P/ASX 200 is PolyNovo (ASX:PNV), trading 4.6 per cent higher at $1.13. It is followed by shares in Whitehaven Coal (ASX:WHC) and AMP (ASX:AMP).

The worst-performing stock in the S&P/ASX 200 is Novonix (ASX:NVX), trading 7.2 per cent lower at $6.74. It is followed by shares in Block (ASX:SQ2) and Magellan Financial Group (ASX:MFG).

Commodities and the dollar

Gold is trading at US$1922.32 an ounce.
Iron ore is at US$160.80 a ton.
Iron ore futures are pointing to a rise of 2.03 per cent.
One Australian dollar is buying 75.62 US cents.