Oil bounce adds fuel to Christmas ASX rally

Investors can breathe easy on Christmas Day after a positive day on the ASX. Photo: Nic WalkerThe Australian sharemarket ended Christmas Eve on a high, boosted for a third day by rising oil prices to post its highest close since the beginning of the month on sharply reduced volumes.

At the close on Thursday, the S&P/ASX 200 was 1.28 per cent, or 65.8 points, higher at 5207.6. This added to gains throughout the holiday-shortened week to leave the index up just under 2 per cent since Monday’s opening.

The broader All Ordinaries Index, meanwhile, closed up 1.2 per cent for the day, at 5256.1 points, to be ahead around 1.95 per cent for the week

Eight of the 10 main sector indices were ahead for the day, with energy and materials the star performers, ahead 3.05 per cent and 3.26 per cent, respectively.

Only the industrial index ended the day down, by 0.12 per cent.

“The Santa rally looks like regaining momentum with a seventh consecutive day of gains,” CMC chief market analyst Ric Spooner said before the close.

“This comes amid signs that short sellers have found themselves on the wrong side of recent moves in commodities and resource stocks.”

Leading the index up were energy stocks, buoyed by the overnight rise in oil prices. The Brent crude oil price climbed 3.4 per cent overnight to $US37.34 a barrel.

“Sentiment towards the commodity sector was helped by a surprisingly large drop in US oil inventories last week as well as recent signalling from Chinese authorities that more stimulus is on the way,”  Mr Spooner said.

An unexpected drop in weekly US Energy Information Administration inventories spurred a 3.7 per cent gain in the West Texas Intermediate oil price, IG market analyst Angus Nicholson said.

“Judging by the moves in oil overnight, one could be forgiven for thinking that Santa’s sleigh runs on Light-Sweet Cushing, Oklahoma Crude,” Mr Nicholson said.

On the local index, Beach Energy was the stock leader, up 9.28 per cent at $0.53, followed by Whitehaven Coal, which ended the session ahead 8.66 per cent at $0.69.  After leading the board for most of the day, Liquefied Natural Gas eased in afternoon trade to be ahead 6.08 per cent at $0.78. Western Areas was ahead 6.34 per cent at $2.18 and Origin Energy, 6.21 per cent at $4.79.

BHP Billiton was the strongest of the blue chip stocks, closing up 5.34 per cent at $18.34.

However, the relief  in oil was expected to be short lived, with production levels remaining high despite chronic oversupply, Mr Spooner said. Brent crude is expected to finish the year at levels not seen in 11 years.

This underlined the ephemeral nature of current market buoyancy, said IG’s Mr Nicolson.

“Whenever one looks at the list of index top performers and sees Beach Energy, Whitehaven Coal, Origin and Fortescue near the top of the list, one can be fairly certain this performance is not likely to be repeated over the coming weeks,” he said.

“China’s slowing economy and need to deal with industrial overcapacity alongside Iran’s return to the global oil market paint a less rosy picture for the commodities space over the coming weeks and months.”

Financial stocks also did well, with the index up 1.18 per cent for the day. Commonwealth Bank of Australia was the strongest, up 1.55 per cent to $83.32. Westpac was next, up about 1.5 per cent at $32.54, followed by Australian and New Zealand Banking group, which advanced just under 1.4 per cent to $27.25. National Australia Bank added 1.34 per cent to $29.39.

Among the day’s losers, rail freight operator Aurizon Holdings lost a further 3.67 per cent, to $4.20, after Wednesday’s downbeat guidance. Mayne Pharma group, Spotless, Flexigroup and Slater and Gordon all lost more than 2 per cent in the shortened session.

“Equity markets look keen to have a good Christmas break and deal with the hangover of ongoing systemic issues in the New Year,” Mr Nicholson said.

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Canberra National Zoo and Aquarium animals open their Christmas presents

Bakkar the tiger was more impressed with his deer leg than the box it came in. Photo: Jay Cronan Bakkar the tiger quickly dispensed with the wrapping on his present – a deer leg. Photo: Jay Cronan

Canberra’s cutest animal stories of 2015Pets don’t make a good Christmas surprise

Next time you’re wrapping a present for a bear, remember to ditch the sticky tape.

The Canberra Zoo showered its exotic animals with special gifts on Christmas Eve and while it appears humans have a lot in common with our furry friends when it comes to how we celebrate the silly season, unwrapping gifts bundled in reams of tape isn’t one of them.

“When we wrap our presents for our animals we have to be mindful of how we actually wrap it, we can’t use any tapes or things like that that they might ingest or get caught in so a lot of the time we’ve just used the paper around the boxes and we have to  be quite creative of how we actually seal it off so when we throw it over it doesn’t come undone straight away,” Renee Osterloh, senior wildlife keeper at the National Zoo and Aquarium, said.

“We do like to celebrate Christmas with our animals a day early so everyone including the staff can enjoy watching the presents opened by our animals.”

Black-capped capuchins rummaging through Santa-hat sacks strung between two shady trees were rewarded with grapes, nuts and – disgustingly – meal worms.

Arikaki the sun bear was more interested in the wrapping paper than the peanuts inside at first while his mate Otay struggled to retrieve her parcel floating in the pool in their enclosure.

They got there in the end though and bears capped off their festive feast with an iceblock and a quick dip – just like many Canberrans will undoubtedly do on Christmas Day too.

Unlike most cats, Bakkar the tiger was less impressed with the box his juicy deer leg came in and more intent on devouring it.

He did however stop to savour the Christmas tree in his enclosure – Ms Osterloh said pine trees are a particular favourite of his.

Over in meerkat manor, the zookeepers proved there are worse things to find in your Christmas cracker than paper hats and terrible jokes.

Live crickets spilled out of their bon bons after they were tossed to the tiny carnivores.

“It’s all nice and positive and enriching and they absolutely love these extra treats and presents they get throughout the day for Christmas,” Ms Osterloh said.

But it’s not just food the animals unwrap.

“We also like to give objects so some of our big cats and other animals we like to give them toys, a kong toy, a big ball or some scented branches that they can rub against and get some really beautiful smells.”

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Short story: The Uke Man

WORTH 1000 WORDS: Summer Herald will each day publish an entry in our short story competition. The winner will be announced on January 30. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

I LOST myself.

I never used to lose things. Keys, wallet, mobile, laptop. I always knew where they were.

Then one morning I looked in the mirror and I wasn’t there. I can’t say it was entirely unexpected. There had been signs.

My family’s goodbyes as I left for work each morning had become increasingly perfunctory until finally they had discontinued.

I returned in the evenings to a silent chorus of kids and wifely indifference. Even the dog ignored me.

Colleagues ceased missing me at the meetings I avoided for reasons of boredom.

My boss stopped giving me trivial tasks to prove his boss-hood. Taxi drivers didn’t see me. I could get on and off public transport without tapping my Opal card. Friends stopped calling.

I had disappeared into myself. I felt life had sucked me invisible. Now, I’m a practical man. I work with statistics. I enjoy solving problems. I can build and fix things. Yet I didn’t have a clue how to fix myself.

I took to walking alone in the evenings in order to better ponder this quandary. I reasoned that shadowy solitude would suit an invisible man.

I rambled aimlessly, night after night, in the street-lit dark of Merewether. I was so indiscernible that my wife didn’t even suggest I take the dog with me.

Promenading around my suburb, however, provided no bright ideas.

Until one evening my feet led me to the precincts of a local club.

The car-park was full and I halted in amazement at what looked like an explosion of flowers erupting from the vehicles. They were women of all ages. Each one wearing clothes of bright, bright colours.

Then I saw the men. They looked very real. Their clothes weren’t quite as colourful as the women’s but still they were crazy-wild ensembles –at least from my grey besuited perspective.

Shirts and pants didn’t match. Some wore jaunty hats, others Leonard Cohen-cool fedoras.

They all looked as if they’d dressed themselves during some happy spasm of exhilaration. And almost all of them, male and female, carried small instrument cases.

They all wore smiles and the radiance of them hooked me. I followed them into the club, mystified.

Fifteen minutes later I understood.

They were players in ukulele orchestras and I had stumbled across an Aladdin’s cave of dazzle.

The room was packed but I found a seat, closed my gaping mouth and discovered myself in the glorious rhythm and sway, the hue-flushed transcendence of the uke and those who play it.

The audience, many of whom turned out to be players, had the same joyous flow about themas the performers on stage. This was a gathering of people so visible, so alive they vibrated.

I felt that vibration tingling around me and I gave myself up to the music and the vivid richness of colour and the earthy swaying solid humanity around me.

My neighbours spoke to me. We shared excited joyful chatter and smiled and smiled.

Orchestra after orchestra played and I realised I was as visible, as real as everyone around me. I travelled a long way that evening and the magic of the uke was my destination.

After the show and clutching a program containing contact details of all the ukestras in Newcastle, I walked home the long way. I didn’t drag my feet this time. In the shadier parts of the street I played air-uke.

I just about danced my way to King Edward Park. Then I thought of the Obelisk and the whole city laid out around it – seemed exactly the right place to make my announcement.

I strode up the stairs from Wolfe Street and stood high, looking out towards the star-speckled sea. For the first time I noticed there was a full moon. The world was brimming with the alchemy of shadows and light.

I knew the answer to my riddle.

Hands on hips and full-breathed I shouted into the world: “I am alive … I am here … and … I am …Uke Man!

When I finally arrived back home I was whistling.

My family were strewn in various languid poses across the living room. The television was on but no-one was watching. Each human head was bowed into a device. The dog was asleep.

As my whistling had caused no reaction, I stood centre-room and burst into song. A few bars of Shimmy Like My Sister Kate. That made them sit up and see me. It was all uphill from there.

They asked me questions, I answered them. Transpired that we all had felt invisible.

I grabbed my wife in a dancing twirl and said, “We’re headin’ for Ukedom, baby, and we’re takin’ the kids along for the ride.”

And we did.

And we still do.

How to keep homes safe from thieves and fire

NSW Police and firefighters have provided residents with 11 tipsto safeguard their homes against thieves and firesduring the holidays.

NSW Police Force’s Corporate Sponsor for Crime Prevention, Superintendent Brad Shepherd, said criminals were oftenopportunists.

“They are well aware that many people leave their homes at this time of year – to visit relatives and go on holidays,” Superintendent Shepherd said.

“Don’t make it easy for them to target your place.

“When away from home, never advertise your travel plans on social media – a Facebook photo showing you on holiday is an open invitation to thieves.

“You might also consider using a timer to activate an internal light or radio to give the impression someone is home.”

Superintendent Shepherd said residents could also ask atrusted family member, friend or neighbour to keep an eye on the property,collectmail, mow the lawn and put out garbage bins.

He said this advice was in addition to everyday measures includingfitting security doors, windows, locks and alarms; keeping trees and shrubs trimmed to improve visibility; and not leaving spare keys outside.

Fire & Rescue NSW (FRNSW)’s Superintendent Ian Krimmer said many people cooked large meals for their family and friends at this time of year and some became distracted while cooking.

“Kitchen fires account for more than half of all home fires, and we see an increase in the number of fires involving barbecues at this time of year,”Superintendent Ian Krimmer said.

“More often than not, the cause of those fires is due to cooking being left unattended, so the message is clear this festive season – keep looking when cooking.”

Superintendent Krimmer said fires could also happen in unoccupied houses and units. He said people going away should switch off and unplug electrical appliances and make sure their alarms are working.

Home safety and security tips:

Let a trusted neighbour or family friend know your whereabouts and contact details. Ask them to watch your home, empty your mailbox, mow your lawn and, most importantly, call Triple-Zero if they notice anything suspicious or if the smoke alarm activates.

Dispose of Christmas wrapping and delivery/goods packaging carefully. Don’t advertise your new valuables to would-be thieves.

Lock away your handyman/gardening tools, which may be used to force open doors or windows, and any item that may be used to gain access to the property or cause damage.

Record descriptions, models and serial numbers of your valuables and then put them somewhere safe.

If you live in a bushfire-prone area, prepare your home properly – a full preparation checklist can be found at 老域名rfs.nsw.gov备案老域名

Switch off and disconnect non-essential electrical appliances and IT equipment.

Ensure any electrical items you decide to leave on continuously, or on timer circuits, are in good working order – that includes lights left on to deter thieves both inside and outside.

Test your smoke alarms and change batteries, if required, to ensure they function.

Before you leave, close all internal doors to help contain any fire that might occur.

Then, check your doors, windows and garage are locked securely, and remove spare keys from hiding places. As you leave, check everything again.

If you have a home security alarm, activate it.

Smoke and stress free

NO MORE: Cessnock jail has been smoke free for four months and authorities say there have been minimal problems, claiming the centre’s 850 prisoners are thanking them for it. Picture: Simone De Peak.JAIL inmates don’t get much cash –the hardest of the workers might pull in $15 a week if they work their backsides off.

But wardens claim they are seeing a seismic shift in what prisoners use their hard-earned on now that cigarettes are not on top of the list.

Nearly four months after jails across the state went smoke-free, prisoners are said to be leaning towards cleaner and healthier living.

Nuts, low cholesterol and low sugar food were now becoming the most popular items that inmates were spending their pittance on.

“There has been a huge uptake of healthy products being bought,’’NSW Corrective Services Director of Custodial Corrections, GlenScholes, said.

“Now they are not spending all of their money on smokes, they are finding there are better things to spend it on.”

The controversial decision to outlaw smokes came after massive riots in Victoria.

But Mr Scholes said there had been minimal problems since the cigarettes were banned and inmates were, in fact, thanking them.

Cessnock Jail’s 850 inmates, including maximum security prisoners serving life sentences, were part of the nicotine replacement therapytreatment which weaned them off cigarettes without the irritability and mood swings –something which can worry jail wardens.

“The feeling amongst the inmates is “thank God it’s over’’, we are glad we are no longer smoking and we are glad we are no longer wasting all our money on smoking,’’ Mr Scholes said.

“There has been a significant shift in the way they are thinking, you would have to rate it as a huge success.’’

The department had beefed up jailriot squads as they readied for the changes, but Mr Scholes said they were rarely needed.

He said there were a few scuffles as the ban was implemented, probably over the last scraps of tobacco left behind the bars, but there was little evidence that it was even being smuggled in.

“It’s not necessarily the lifers and those with long sentences, it is the younger brigade which we needed to look out for,’’ Mr Scholes said.

“Traditionally, they are the more volatile and harder to manage.

“But it seemed they took to itas well as the others.’’