ASX 200 (XJO) morning report – Afterpay share price hits all-time high

The S&P/ASX 200 (INDEXASX: XJO) is tipped to open lower this morning according to the latest SPI futures. Here’s what ASX investors need to know.

ASX 200 finishes higher, coal exports in the news

The ASX 200 continued its winning streak, adding another 0.3% on Monday as US futures ticked higher with the Pfizer(NYSE: PFE) vaccine set to be in use this week.

It was a day of records that powered the market though, with Wesfarmers Ltd (ASX: WES) and Afterpay Ltd (ASX: APT) rising 2.7% and 8.8%, respectively, both hitting all-time highs. The former is benefitting from its well-timed acquisition of online retailer Catch Group, the latter a recent deal with eBay Inc. (NASDAQ: EBAY) that has been beneficial for both companies.

China formally blacklisted Australian coal exports over the weekend, the market totalling $14 billion now faces a real challenge to remain relevant. The Whitehaven Coal (ASX: WHC) share price fell 4.4% on the news. This makes for interesting reading, as according to experts, Australian coal is markedly higher quality and therefore lower-emitting than many alternatives, suggesting this ban may be shorter than expected.

Sticking with commodities, Viva Energy Group Ltd (ASX: VEA) yesterday received a $30 million government subsidy to keep the lights on at its refining plant in Geelong for a further six months as it seeks to set a long-term strategy for the future.

Featured video: The Australian Finance Podcast December Q&A

IOOF class action heats up, Pilbara acquires lithium mine

The class action against superannuation manager and investment adviser IOOF Holdings Limited (ASX: IFL), which owns Shadforth and other well-known brands, has been funded this week according to reports. The litigators are seeking compensation for shareholders who held in 2014 and 2015 when misconduct ranging from insider trading and breaches of trustee duties has been alleged.

This came at the same time that IOOF received approval from the Australian Consumer Competition Commission(ACCC) for its planned takeover of National Australia Bank Ltd’s (ASX: NAB) MLC Wealth business. This seems like a questionable acquisition in my view, with IOOF effectively doubling down on the quasi vertically integrated structure flagged as the biggest issue in the industry throughout the Royal Commission. The IOOF share price finished 2.7% higher.

Pilbara Minerals Ltd (ASX: PLS) joined IGO Group (ASX: IGO) announcing the US$175 million acquisition of the neighbouring, but mothballed, Altura lithium mine. The acquisition will be funded by a capital raising, of which A$119 million will come directly from Australian Super and the remainder split between retail shareholders; who will likely be diluted.

US markets pointing to weak open for ASX

The triumvirate of forces continued to drive markets, being energy prices, fiscal stimulus and the coronavirus. The combination of OPEC’s forecast falls in demand and hints of a full lockdown in New York and Germany sent the S&P 500 to its fourth straight day of losses, down 0.4%.

Biotech remains in the headlines after immune disorder treatment provider Alexion (NASDAQ: ALXN) agreed to a takeover offer from AstraZeneca (LON: AZN), who is set to release its vaccine in the coming weeks. Alexion stock finished 29% higher.

Meanwhile, the first doses of Pfizer’s vaccine have been rolled out overnight to frontline workers in what is the beginning of a long road ahead before the country returns to normal.

Pressure continues to build on the mega-cap tech players, with expectations that the EU will announce new legislation allowing fines of up to 10% of sales of the likes of Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL), Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) and Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) should they be found to have used their customers’ data to compete with them.

Similarly, the Chinese Government issued both Alibaba (HKG: 9988) and Tencent (HKG: 0700) with ‘token’ fines for non-competitive acquisitions several years ago; shares were down 2.6% and 2.9%, respectively, in early trading.

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