ASX investors got back in the risk saddle on Wednesday, with steady gains across the large cap indexes and a 1.7% jump for the microcap Emerging Companies index.

The catalyst appeared to be comments from US Fed Chair Jerome Powell overnight, who seemed to ease market fears that the Fed may look to tighten policy even faster than currently expected.

Under-pressure US tech stocks responded well, and there were solid gains for some big-name tech plays on the ASX as well.

Gold stocks also outperformed, alongside energy stocks which are having a good week as Brent crude oil prices consolidate above US$80/barrel.

Looking ahead, all eyes will be on the marquee data event of the week tonight — US inflation for December. An annualised core CPI print above the consensus forecast of 5.4% could prompt another round of market jitters, analysts said.

TODAY’S BIGGEST SMALL CAP WINNERS

(Stocks highlighted in yellow rose after making announcements during the trading day).

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It was a party from the opening bell for 2021 ASX debutante Pacgold (ASX:PGO), which increasingly looks like it’s knocking on the door of a large, high-grade gold system at its ‘Alice River’ project in Queensland.

So far, the further underground its drilling program goes the wider the gold mineralisation gets, including hits like 17m at 9.3g/t gold.

Investors will now be keenly awaiting the next round of results from seven more drill holes, targeting the zone between 100m to 320m below surface.

Tangible deals with the US government are often the catalyst for strong ASX gains, and dual-listed biotech Immuron (ASX:IMC, NASDAQ:IMRN) was no different today. The company flagged a $4.8m research deal with the US Department of Defense, which will fund further trials of its research program targeting gut mediated pathogens and infectious diarrhoea.

Outside of resources and biotech, BNPL player OpenPay (ASX:OPY) held its morning gains to book a spot on today’s winner’s list, after a trading update where it said transaction volumes for December came in at a monthly record high.

While the sector has been smashed in recent months and OPY is down by around 80% from its post-COVID highs, investors responded well to today’s update where the company flagged its ongoing push into the US market and strong operating momentum in Australia.

TODAY’S BIGGEST SMALL CAP LOSERS

(Stocks highlighted in yellow fell after making announcements during the trading day).

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ANNOUNCEMENTS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED

Industrial distribution group Stealth Global (ASX:SGI) flagged some M&A news, with a deal to acquire United Tools for $24,000 cash plus a deferred marketing subsidy of $1.25 million, to be payable over two years. SGI said the deal will double its store network from 33 to 66, and create “a leading industrial Maintenance Repair Operations (MRO) supplies group” in the domestic market.

After jumping by 13% in morning trade, WA-based gold and nickel explorer Estrella Resources (ASX:ESR) responded to an ASX price query, and said it wasn’t aware of any internal developments that would have prompted the rally.

Oil & gas play Melbana Energy (ASX:MAY) dipped in afternoon trade, after providing a drilling update at its Alameda-1 exploration well in Cuba. Melbana stopped drilling at 2,592m MD MD (measured depth) to run logs and install casing. “The next target is the primary structure called ‘N’, which is forecast to be encountered starting at ~3,000 mMD, followed by the deepest (and largest) primary structure called ‘Alameda(expected at ~3,600 mMD)”, the company said.

TRADING HALTS

The following stocks are in a halt and are due out over the next few trading days.

OZZ Resources (ASX:OZZ) — tenement acquisition

Elsight (ASX:ELS) — commercial purchase order

Iris Metals (ASX:IR1) – material acquisition

Emerald Resources (ASX:EMR) – takeover

Castle Minerals (ASX:CDT) – capital raising