Late charge from banks lead Australian sharemarket higher

After trading flat for most of Thursday, Australian shares finished marginally higher, helped by some late buying in the big banks, while nickel miners were sold off after the ore plunged sharply.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 Index and the broader All Ordinaries both added 14.3 points, or 0.3 per cent to end at 5510.8 and 5490.2 respectively.

Weak leads from Wall Street, where the Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P500 and the Nasdaq all slipped, weighed on the local market in early trade. However, the Dow Jones and S&P500 still remain close to record highs.

Around the Asian region, Japanese and Chinese shares were among the losers, down 0.75 per cent and 0.9 per cent respectively. A stronger yen weighed on the Japanese market, while economic slowdown worries were cited as a reason for the sell-off in Shanghai.

Sparking some relief in the euro zone, German gross domestic product jumped a stronger than expected 0.8 per cent in the first quarter, up from 0.4 per cent in the final quarter of last year.

Australian investors were likely taking a pause following a strong run from indexes around the world, Perpetual head of investment market research Matt Sherwood said.

“I tend to think that it reflects the fact that valuations are elevated, they’re stretched, and the moment investors are just waiting to see if we do get that following through in earnings delivery,” Mr Sherwood said.

The next stage for the Australia market was the August corporate earnings season, Mr Sherwood said.

“Investors will be looking at earnings delivery, the overall earnings performance as well as the quality of the earnings, and that is the real unknown factor at the moment, which investors are waiting to see how it will transpire,” he said.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia continued to push to record highs, lifting to $81.30 during the session before easing back to a closing high of $81.20.

The rest of the big banks were mostly higher too, with ANZ rising 0.2 per cent to $33.20, NAB flat at $33.59 and Westpac pushing up 0.8 per cent to $34.48.

Woolworths was another strong performer, rising 1 per cent to $37.28, while Coles owner Wesfarmers gained 0.2 per cent to $43.26.

Optus posted another fall in revenue, with its mobile customers continuing to leave the provider in favours of Australia’s largest telecommunications company, Telstra. Optus’s parent company, Singapore Telecommunications, which is listed in the Singapore Stock Exchange, fell 0.3 per cent to S$3.83 in afternoon trade.

Shares in Telstra gained 0.2 per cent to $5.29, taking the stock closer to a 12-month high of $5.30 touched in January.

Graincorp profits dived 43 per cent in the six months to March, however shares lifted 0.8 per cent to $9.00. The grains handler blamed dry weather which it said had a major impact on growers, especially in northern NSW and QLD.

Shares in shopping centre giant Westfield added 0.3 per cent to $3.24, following a 4.4 per cent jump in retail sales in the March quarter, taking the company’s annual turnover to $20.3 billion. Westfield also increased its average specialty rent to $1536 per square metre.

SP Ausnet delivered an after profit tax of $305.4 million, up 11.7 per cent, but missing some analyst expectations. The electricity distributor said profit was dragged down by preparing for potential payments to the Australian Tax Office, as well as a Singapore Power owned business, which SP Ausnet terminated a contract with. SP Ausnet shares dropped 0.7 per cent to $1.36.

Nickel plunged nearly 10 per cent on Thursday, extending an overnight 4.7 per cent sell-off, as prices corrected following last week’s strong rally.

Nickel remains extremely volatile due to supply shortages following a January ban of raw materials exports in Indonesia. Last week, Vale announced it had suspended its New Caledonia nickel operations, causing the hot run to start up again.

Australian nickel miners fell as a result. Western Areas lost 3.3 per cent to $4.37, Sirius Resources dropped 3.4 per cent to $2.85, and Panoramic Resources plunged 6.1 per cent to 61.5¢.

Goodman Fielder entered a trading halt as bidders Wilmar International and First Pacific upped their previous offer for the food producer by 5¢ to 70¢ per share. Goodman Fielder shares last traded at 67.5¢.

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