The Australian dollar strengthened following the release of official jobs data, which showed the unemployment rate dipped to 5.7 per cent in April from 5.9 per cent the prior month. The Aussie climbed US0.3¢ to trade at US74.6¢ in late Thursday trade.
A lift in Wall St futures through the session helped limit losses on the local bourse. The heavweight banks were the biggest drag on the ASX, but the losses among the big four lenders were not drastic. Westpac was the biggest single detractor as it traded without the right to its upcoming dividend and fell 3.1 per cent.
With the level of political uncertainty on the rise, "markets are set to enter risk-off mode in the near-term", Credit Suisse strategist Hasan Tevfik said. Mr Tevfik tipped that more "defensive" style stocks should outperform in such an environment, and that is how it played out on Thursday. Reliable earners such as toll road operator Transurban Group and Sydney Airport were among the relatively few names to end the day in the black, adding 0.9 per cent and 1.2 per cent, respectively. Gold miners were also favoured as a result of their famed safehaven status.
Investors are now wondering whether the recent extended period of calm on Wall St has come to a definitive end.
"This all comes on the heels of the sharp dive in the US economic surprise index and last week's further softness in US inflation," NAB economist David de Garis said. "Now politics is intervening to add more noise into a market already wondering whether the US economy is slowing or not."
Amid the overseas noise, there was no shortage of corporate news on the ASX.
Shares in Fairfax Media jumped 7 per cent to $1.24 on news of a competing bid from private equity firm Hellman & Friedman. The new offer was for as much as $1.25 per share, against a $1.20 offer from a consortium led by TPG. The publisher said it would allow both bidders to now conduct due diligence.
James Hardie shares slumped 7.8 per cent after the buildings group released annual profits, as the building materials company spoke of "reputational damage" as a result of US supply disruptions through the year.
Investors dumped Sirtex Medical shares after research into the company's liver cancer treatment seemed to confirm that it had a dwindling chance of becoming a potential alternative to chemotherapy.