May 3, 2018 / 3:24 AM / 3 months ago

Australian shares hit near 3-mth high on materials, weaker currency

* Aussie shares highest since Feb. 5

* Materials lead gains on main index

* Woolworths rally supports consumer staples

* NZ near six-week high

By Aditya Soni

May 3 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose to a near three-month high on Thursday, tracking gains in Europe, as investors cheered a weaker local currency and firmer commodities prices boosted materials.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose about 1 percent, or 57.6 points, to 6,107.8 by 0319 GMT. The benchmark added 0.6 percent on Wednesday.

“It’s a stunning outperformance and it does appear that the Australian investment market is following European moves rather than the U.S. moves at the moment,” said Michael McCarthy, Chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

European shares rose on Wednesday, boosted by some strong earnings updates and a rising tech sector.

McCarthy also said that a weaker Australian dollar could be attracting more inflows from international investors, lending support to the rally on the benchmark.

The Australian spiralled lower to multi-month lows on Wednesday, as the greenback trekked higher against most major currencies amid bets interest rates will rise at a faster pace in the United States.

Materials, especially miners, accounted for most of the gains on the benchmark, with the metals and mining index climbing 1.6 pct to a more than fifteen-week high.

Gains in the sector were underpinned by a higher prices for iron ore, copper and aluminium.

Global miner BHP jumped 0.8 percent to its highest since Jan. 16, while South32 Ltd surged 3.6 percent, its biggest intraday percentage gain in two-weeks.

Consumer staples rose 1.6 percent to a record high as grocery giant Woolworths Group Ltd’s strong quarterly sales continued to supported the broader sector.

The company rose 2.2 percent to its highest since August 2015 while rival Wesfarmers Ltd firmed 0.9 percent to an almost seven-week high.

The bullish sentiment supported financials, which rose 0.7 percent to their highest since March 23, on track to register five-consecutive session of gains.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia ticked up 0.6 percent to a more than three-week high, brushing off news the lender had lost the records of almost 20 million accounts and decided not to inform its customers, another blow to an institution already reeling from multiple scandals.

Bucking the trend, National Australia Bank Ltd dipped 0.4 percent, hurt by a 16 percent drop in half-year cash profit due to restructuring costs. The lender is looking to exit part of its wealth management business by 2019.

Meanwhile, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.8 percent or 66.8 points to 8,561.04.

Health care stocks and telecommunication services led the gainers, with Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corporation Ltd climbing 1.7 percent to a three-week high, while Spark New Zealand Ltd firmed 1.4 percent to a six-week high. (Reporting by Aditya Soni in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Syed Saif Hussain Naqvi; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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