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ASX ends flat, CSL and Fortescue impress

·4-min read

Australia's share market closed little changed, but could have been lower if not for giants CSL and Fortescue giving good earnings reports and steadying the indices.

The S&P/ASX200 benchmark index closed higher by 0.7 points, or 0.01 per cent, to 6885.9.

The index was a little short of the 6900 points level. The ASX200 on Tuesday closed higher than this for the first time since February last year.

The All Ordinaries on Thursday closed lower by 3.3 points, or 0.05 per cent, at 7155.5.

Healthcare was the standout sector, up 2.05 per cent, after CSL's first-half earnings.

Fortescue limited losses in the materials sector by impressing investors with its first-half earnings.

There were losses of more than one per cent for property, energy and industrials.

Pepperstone chief market strategist Chris Weston said the performances of CSL, Fortescue and others helped steady the market after Wall Street closed mostly lower.

"It's a stock market but it's a market of stocks, ultimately," he said.

"CSL had a big bearing on the market today. Healthcare was clearly outperforming and held the index."

CSL gained 2.78 per cent to $289.00 after a 44 per cent increase in first-half net profit after tax to $1.8 billion.

There was some negativity in global markets overnight.

Minutes of US Federal Reserve officials' meeting last month show they debated how to prepare the public for higher inflation. They also discussed the need to "stay vigilant" for signs of stress in buoyant asset markets.

Mr Weston was not worried.

"The bull market is in trend. We just had a pause today," he said.

"Earnings have been better than expected and it keeps the momentum going."

Fortescue, the other heavyweight which reported, raised first-half net profit by 66 per cent to $US4.1 billion.

Investors will receive a fully franked interim dividend of $1.47 per share, 93 per cent higher than the previous interim payout.

Shares rose 1.93 per cent to $24.88.

Among main rivals, BHP dropped 0.19 per cent to $48.51 and Rio Tinto edged up 0.02 per cent to $127.50.

There was good economic news as Australia's unemployment rate dropped to 6.4 per cent.

About 29,100 people joined the workforce in January.

Victorians on Thursday emerged from a five-day coronavirus lockdown, while in New Zealand, people in Auckland rose from a three-day one.

In other earnings news, Crown Resorts shareholders were again dismayed after the casino operator revealed a first-half loss of $120 million.

The group's losses were caused by government-mandated coronavirus closures and limits on venues in Australia and the UK.

Shareholders will not receive an interim dividend.

Shares were up 0.41 per cent to $9.73.

Retail giant Wesfarmers reported a near 15 per cent increase in first-half profit.

The owner of Bunnings, Kmart and Officeworks had net profit before tax of $1.3 billion.

Shareholders will receive a fully franked interim dividend of $0.88 per share, higher from the previous interim payout.

Shares rose 0.63 per cent to $54.49.

Big banks were mixed. ANZ gained 2.83 per cent to $26.55, the Commonwealth lost 0.78 per cent to $83.62, NAB shed 0.27 per cent to $25.53 and Westpac rose 3.53 per cent to $24.37 after Wednesday's first-quarter update.

Among companies to report on Friday will be insurer QBE, due to give full-year earnings.

Chicken farmers Inghams will give first-half earnings.

The Aussie dollar was buying 77.54 US cents at 1713 AEDT, higher from 77.53 US cents at Wednesday's close.

ON THE ASX

* The S&P/ASX200 benchmark index closed higher by 0.7 points, or 0.01 per cent, to 6885.9 on Thursday.

* The All Ordinaries closed lower by 3.3 points, or 0.05 per cent, at 7155.5.

* At 1713 AEDT, the SPI200 futures index was lower by four points, or 0.06 per cent, at 6833 points.

CURRENCY SNAPSHOT

One Australian dollar buys:

* 77.54 US cents, from 77.53 cents on Wednesday

* 82.11 Japanese yen, from 82.09 yen

* 64.38 Euro cents, from 64.10 cents

* 56.01 British pence, from 55.80 pence

* 107.94 NZ cents, from 107.66 cents.