Promising interim reports and bank gains give market a push

A series of well-received half-year results and growing optimism that domestic business conditions are improving helped the sharemarket edge higher despite disappointing local construction data and looming concerns about volatility in China.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index eked out a gain of 3.2 points, or less than 0.1 per cent, on Wednesday to 5437, while the broader All Ordinaries Index added three points to 5447. Rises in a number of major stocks in response to interim financial reports, coupled with gains in the big four banks, buoyed the market.

”Overall, reporting season has been better than expected and outlook statements [are] encouraging, leading many strategists to lift their target for where the market will end 2014,” Patersons Securities strategist Tony Farnham said.

WorleyParsons jumped 10.6 per cent to $17.13 after outlining a plan to restructure the company with 500 jobs to be cut. The struggling oil producer and engineering contractor reported a 27 per cent fall in interim profit.

Sydney Airport lifted 2.8 per cent to a four-month high of $4.05 after showing a 7.3 per cent rise in full-year profits and lifting its final dividend.

Travel broker Flight Centre rose 3.2 per cent to $51.39 after delivering a stronger than expected 13 per cent rise in interim profit but disappointed analysts by not lifting full-year guidance.

Fertility clinic operator Virtus Health was the worst-performing stock, losing 8.4 per cent to $7.74 despite beating its forecasts to show a 10.5 per cent rise in interim net profit.

Embattled uranium miner Paladin Energy was the best-performing stock in the ASX 200, climbing 21.4 per cent to 54¢. The biggest miners weighed on the bourse as the spot price for iron ore, landed in China, fell to its lowest price since July at $US119.10 ($132) a tonne.

Moves by the People’s Bank of China this week to depreciate the yuan have led to a fall in Chinese equities and softer commodity prices making investors cautious.

BHP Billiton fell 1.3 per cent to $38.58, while main rival Rio Tinto lost 2.4 per cent to $66.97.

The big four banks ended higher. Commonwealth Bank added 0.3 per cent to $75.49, while Westpac rose 0.4 per cent to $33.56. ANZ lifted 0.2 per cent to $32.08 and National Australia Bank gained 1 per cent to $34.87.

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