Australia Markets closed

ASX slightly higher ahead of key risks

Derek Rose

The local bourse has closed marginally higher - experiencing its first losing week this year - but still had its best month since last February.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index finished Friday up 8.8 points, or 0.13 per cent, at 7,017.2, while the broader All Ordinaries index gained 12.6 points, or 0.18 per cent, to 7,121.2.

"Bit of a bounce back to the market. It does look like some corrective action," CMC Markets chief market analyst Michael McCarthy said.

But the market was jittery, Mr McCarthy said, ahead of three key risk events: Brexit, which is set to finally occur on Saturday, Australia time; a US Senate vote on whether to allow witnesses at President Donald Trump's impeachment trial; and the reopening of markets in China following the coronavirus outbreak.

Allowing witnesses at the Senate trial could unnerve the mercurial US president, Mr MCarthy said.

"Who knows how he'll react, what levers he might push," he said.

And how China's markets react when the trading resumes on Monday for the first time since January 23 will be an important factor in driving sentiment.

Australia's biggest companies were the biggest losers on Friday, with the ASX20 index of the largest 20 corporations falling 0.1 per cent, while the Small Ordinaries Index of Australia's small cap companies gained 0.57 per cent.

The big banks were all down, with Westpac falling 0.8 per cent to $25.12, Commonwealth down 0.2 per cent to $85.26, NAB down 0.1 per cent to $25.86 and ANZ down 0.3 per cent to $25.75.

Telstra dropped 0.5 per cent to $3.84, dragging down the telecommunications sector, which was the worst-performing sector with 0.3 per cent losses.

In the heavyweight mining sector, BHP gained 1.0 per cent to $39.40, Fortescue Metals rose 0.9 per cent to $11.39 and Rio Tinto lost 0.4 per cent to $98.77.

Blood products company CSL gained 0.5 per cent to $312.05, finishing the month with a 13.2 per cent gain.

Elsewhere in the healthcare sector, sleep apnoea treatment company ResMed rose 3.0 per cent to a record closing high of $25.05 after announcing its revenue grew 13 per cent in the December quarter.

Link Administration Holdings gained 9.7 per cent to an eight-month high of $6.81 after the financial services company agreed to buy Pepper Group's European loan servicing and advisory company for at least $266 million.

"Clearly the market liked that deal, was impressed with the strategy there," Mr McCarthy said.

Shipbuilder Austal rose 5.4 per cent to $3.93 and disclosed after the market closed it had received a $15.5 million contract to build a 41-metre high-speed catamaran for a ferry operator in the Comoros Islands near Mozambique.

Buy-now, pay-later company Afterpay rose 2.0 per cent to a record closing high of $38.55, while Zip Co gained 2.5 per cent to $4.04.

But Splitit fell 10.2 per cent after reporting that revenue for the December quarter fell 7.0 per cent to $635,000.

The Australian dollar, meanwhile, was buying 67.19 US cents, down from 67.38 US cents on Thursday.

ON THE ASX:

* The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index finished up 8.8 points, or 0.13 per cent, at 7,017.2 points.

* The All Ordinaries closed up 12.6 points, or 0.18 per cent, at 7,121.2 points.

* The SPI200 futures index closed up 15 points, or 0.22 per cent, at 6,954 points.

CURRENCY SNAPSHOT:

One Australian dollar buys:

* 67.15 US cents, from 67.38 US cents on Thursday

* 73.21 Japanese yen, from 73.41 yen

* 60.92 euro cents, from 61.19 cents

* 51.27 British pence, from 51.77 pence

* 103.60 NZ cents, from 103.51 cents.