The market did not break into positive territory until the final 40 minutes of the session.
EY partner and investment banking veteran Duncan Hogg said US markets had struggled for direction as another positive development from drug maker Pfizer was counteracted by increased COVID numbers in both the US and Europe.
“I think there’s an expectation that despite a vaccine coming, it is going to take a while for the market to get its head around the number of COVID cases occurring in the northern hemisphere,” Mr Hogg said.
He tipped the vaccine-virus see-saw to continue to fuel equity market volatility to continue into the coming weeks.
“We still have the overlay of the US election and whether stimulus will come back to the market,” Mr Hogg said.
“At the moment we’re seeing Biden push for stimulus, but Trump is AWOL.”
Thursday’s session was the fourth straight day of gains for the ASX 200 and brings November’s rise to nearly 10.5 per cent. This would be the biggest month on record since the S&P/ASX200 Index came into operation in 2000.
Westpac was the best of the banks, finishing 2.3 per cent ahead at $19.90, followed by ANS with a 2 per cent rise to $22.45.
Commonwealth Bank added 1.7 per cent to $78.87 and NAB rose 1.8 per cent to $22.70.
The insurers did not fare as well. Suncorp and QBE finished 3 per cent and 3.9 per cent lower respectively on the prospect of being whacked by insurance claims after five Supreme Court judges found pandemic exclusions in business interruption policies were invalid.
IAG went into a trading halt to assess the financial impact of the judgment and determine if a capital raise would be needed.
Elsewhere, biotech CSL fell 0.7 per cent to $310.27 and ResMed dropped 1.3 per cent to $28.87 to weigh on the health sector.
Global miner BHP shed 0.9 per cent to $36.51, though Rio Tinto rose 0.8 per cent to $98.92 and Fortescue Metals climbed 0.4 per cent to $16.95.
The goldminers sagged, but steelmaker BlueScope added 5.3 per cent to close at $17.72 on dramatically upgraded first-half guidance.
Afterpay gained 3.4 per cent to $97.89.