Shares head for 14pc 2021 gain in final session

Australian shares opened softer on Friday, easing back from the three-month high achieved in the prior session and placing blue chips on track for a 14 per cent gain for the year.

The S&P/ASX 200 edged 0.2 per cent lower, shaving 12 points from the benchmark, which sat at 7501.2 points shortly after the market opened at 10am in Sydney on Friday in a shortened session that will end in the early afternoon.

Should the market hold on to the year’s 14 per cent advance, it would mark the best year since the 23 per cent jump in 2019 and the fourth-best of the past decade, reflecting a pandemic rally that pushed the blue-chip benchmark to a record high in August.

All sectors except info tech and materials suffered mild declines in the opening minutes of trade, with real estate and consumer staples leading the fall among the 11 sectors as each eased 0.5 per cent lower.

Tech shares gained 0.3 per cent, while the materials sector, which includes the large miners and makes up a fifth of the S&P/ASX 200, edged 0.2 per cent higher.

Regis Resources led the market with a 3.5 per cent gain in early trade, ahead of Magellan Financial, which advanced 3.1 per cent, placing the beleaguered fund manager on pace to close at its highest level in two weeks.

Magellan shares fell sharply earlier in December when chief executive Brett Cairns announced his sudden resignation and chief investment officer Hamish Douglass confirmed rumours he had separated from his wife.

The impending divorce has sparked worries among investors that a potential share sale as part of the split could weigh on the share price. One of the fund manager’s long-time institutional backers, St James Place, pulled a large mandate from the group in the weeks after the announcements.

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