Australian shares have ended the week on a downer after a mixed bag of a week marked by vaccine rollout news and US pandemic relief.
The ASX 200 ended Friday flat at 6,715 points.
Overall, it ended the week 0.6 per cent down, after starting on Monday at 6,758 points.
The All Ords did end Friday slightly higher (+0.1pc) but also ended the week very slightly down.
Stocks did edge slightly higher on Friday at one point as president-elect Joe Biden unveiled his $US1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan to jump-start a struggling US economy.
Global markets have risen sharply in the past week after the Democrats won the Georgia runoff elections, giving them a majority in the US Senate, which makes it easier for them to pass laws and approve more stimulus.
Real estate, tech stocks and some medical companies led the way on Friday, like Afterpay (+10pc), Vicinity Centres (+5pc) and Domain (+3.1pc).
At the other end of the spectrum, gold miners like Resolute Mining (-6.2pc), along with healthcare companies Polynovo (-7.8pc), Resmed (-4.6pc) and Mesoblast (-2.9pc) experienced heavy losses.
The Australian dollar lifted (+0.6pc) to 77.77 US cents.
Bitcoin briefly hit $US40,000 overnight, as the volatile cryptocurrency has clawed back much of last week’s heavy losses.
Brent crude oil went up (+0.7pc) to $US56.46 per barrel. Spot gold was slightly higher (+0.3pc) to $US1,847.44 an ounce.
Mr Biden announced his $US1.9 trillion stimulus proposal on Thursday evening local time, saying in prime-time remarks that bold investment was needed to jump-start the economy and speed up the US response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have to act and we have to act now.”
The aid package includes $US415 billion to bolster the response to the virus and the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, some $US1 trillion in direct relief to households, and roughly $US440 billion for small businesses and communities particularly hard hit by the pandemic.
Stimulus payment cheques for $US1,400 would be issued to top up the $US600 cheques issued under the last congressional stimulus legislation in December.
Supplemental unemployment insurance would also increase to $US400 a week (up from its current $US300 a week) and would be extended to September.
The Democrat leader’s plan is meant to kick off his time in office with a large bill that sets his short-term agenda into motion quickly; helping the economy and getting a handle on a virus that has killed more than 385,000 people in the United States.
It also provides a sharp contrast with outgoing President Donald Trump, who spent the last months of his administration seeking to undermine Mr Biden’s election victory rather than focusing on additional coronavirus relief.
Mr Trump, who leaves office on Wednesday, did support the $US2,000 stimulus payments.
Many Republicans in Congress baulked at the price tag for such payments.
The president-elect will face similar hurdles with his proposals, though he will be helped by the fact that his fellow Democrats will control both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The incoming president will seek to pass the legislation even as his predecessor faces a second impeachment trial.
Transition officials said Mr Biden’s plan would be a rescue package that would be followed up with another recovery package in the coming weeks.
The plan would extend moratoriums on mortgage foreclosures and evictions until September, and include funding for rental and utility assistance.
Mr Biden also called on Congress to increase the minimum wage to $US15 an hour, and said the package would include assistance to fight hunger.
“I know what I just described does not come cheaply, but failure to do so will cost us dearly,” Mr Biden said, adding that economists, financial institutions and Wall Street banks supported the need for stimulus.
The COVID relief-related funds will go towards a national vaccine program, testing, investments for workers to do vaccine outreach and contact tracing, and money for states.
The incoming President also said, from tomorrow, he would set out his plan to vaccinate 100 million Americans in 100 days after taking office.
Pandemic-related shutdowns and restrictions have cost millions of US jobs.
The Biden plan — if approved by the House and Senate — would buy more time for the US economy to bridge the period until the distribution of vaccines allows for a wider resumption of economic activity.
The Dow Jones and Nasdaq indices briefly hit fresh records on Thursday (local time), but wiped out all their gains in the final trading hour.
In the end, the Dow closed (-0.2pc) lower at 30,992, while the Nasdaq fell (-0.1pc) to 13,113.
The benchmark S&P 500 dropped (-0.4pc) to 3,796 points.
The US Labor Department’s latest weekly jobless report showed the number of Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment benefits increased more than expected last week.
Surging COVID-19 infections disrupted operations at restaurants and other businesses, underscoring its severe impact on the economy.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose to 965,000 last week, the highest number since late August.
It was a significant jump, with 181,000 more Americans applying filing jobless claims, compared to the week before.
“There’s a tug-of-war going on between the prospects for further fiscal stimulus, as a result of Democratic control of the Senate, and a jobs market that has a long way to go before it heals,” said Emily Roland, co-chief investment strategist at John Hancock Investment Management.
“You have these competing forces going on which are keeping markets range bound.”
But Ms Roland noted that disappointing jobs data could provide “further fodder for Biden to potentially market this plan.”
Wall Street has been trading near record highs, despite the recent spate of weak economic data.