ASX down as inflation debate continues: Wednesday 24 Feb

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Steven Deare
(Australian Associated Press)

 

Australia’s share market has closed lower but investors may have had greater losses if not for the US Federal Reserve assuring current policy settings will continue.

The S&P/ASX200 benchmark index closed lower by 61.4 points, or 0.9 per cent, to 6777.8 on Wednesday.

The All Ordinaries closed lower by 61.4 points, or 0.86 per cent, at 7049.4.

There were losses of more than two per cent for the materials, information technology and telecommunications sectors.

The ASX200 opened the week less than 200 points from the milestone 7000 points level it topped in January last year.

The index has since slipped 0.24 per cent.

Investsmart market strategist Evan Lucas said ASX futures pointed to greater losses on Wednesday before Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell spoke to the US Senate Banking Committee.

Mr Powell argued against concerns the central bank’s economic support increased the risk of spiralling inflation.

He reiterated bond purchases will continue until “substantial progress” has been made towards low unemployment and inflation of about 2 per cent annually.

Mr Lucas said the comments were market moving.

He said many investors had bet the US central bank would in the next 12-24 months slow its quantitative easing program and raise interest rates.

Equities and property would suffer.

Mr Powell’s comments suggested those bets may be wrong.

“Equity markets take Powell’s comments as a positive because the Fed isn’t going to stop giving out free money anytime soon,” Mr Lucas said.

The S&P 500 and Dow Jones had minor gains. The Nasdaq was down.

Meanwhile, the Aussie dollar rose to buy 79.45 US cents, its highest level in about three years.

Mr Lucas said rising yields for the Aussie 10-year bond were a factor, as the dollar was needed to buy them.

On the ASX, Woolworths posted a near 16 per cent jump in first-half profit, helped by soaring sales during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Net profit after tax was 15.9 per cent higher at $1.1 billion.

The board declared a dividend of 53 cents per share, up 15.2 per cent on the prior year.

Shares were up 1.05 per cent at $39.50.

Nine Entertainment reported a 79 per cent gain in first-half earnings after advertising increased by more than company leaders expected.

Nine reported a net profit after tax of $181.8 million, helped by advertisers spending more as Australia better controlled the coronavirus.

Shareholders will receive an interim dividend of five cents per share, fully franked. This was the same as the previous interim payout.

Shares were higher by 9.74 per cent to $2.93.

A big mover was SeaLink Travel Group, which rose 13.74 per cent to $8.03.

The company provides ferry, bus and light rail services in Australia, London and Singapore.

Its purchase last year of Transit Systems Group helped first-half net profit jump to $32 million, from $8.7 million in the previous corresponding period.

In mining, BHP was down 3.11 per cent to $48.86, Fortescue slipped 1.45 per cent to $24.48 and Rio Tinto shed 2.73 per cent to $126.45.

In banking, NAB was the only member of the big four to be higher and rose 0.2 per cent to $24.90. The others were lower by less than one per cent.

On Thursday, Afterpay and Qantas will be among companies reporting first-half earnings.

Afterpay rival Zip will also give first-half earnings.

The Australian dollar was buying 79.10 US cents at 1721 AEDT, lower from 79.18 US cents at Tuesday’s close.

ON THE ASX

* The S&P/ASX200 benchmark index closed lower by 61.4 points, or 0.9 per cent, to 6777.8 on Wednesday.

* The All Ordinaries closed lower by 61.4 points, or 0.86 per cent, at 7049.4.

* At 1721 AEDT, the SPI200 futures index was lower by 20 points, or 0.3 per cent, at 6707 points.

CURRENCY SNAPSHOT

One Australian dollar buys:

* 79.10 US cents, from 79.18 cents on Tuesday

* 83.46 Japanese yen, from 83.18 yen

* 65.11 Euro cents, from 65.06 cents

* 55.86 British pence, from 56.27 pence

* 107.38 NZ cents, from 108.26 cents.

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