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ASX flat as goldminers shine, energy falls

The local share market has finished basically unchanged from where it started, with modest gains by big banks and goldminers offset by losses in the energy sector.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index finished Thursday up 4.4 points, or 0.06 per cent, to 7063.6, while the broader All Ordinaries gained 10.2 points, or 0.14 per cent, to 7259.3.

State Street Global Advisors SPDR ETF equity strategist Julia Lee told AAP that investors were digesting mixed economic signals.

"On one hand, China stocks were trading well with optimism around China's reopening," she said. "The Hang Seng index traded at the highest level since July.

"On the other hand, investors remained cautious on the back of the commentary from the US Federal Reserve's last meeting and ahead of the job numbers out of the US on Friday."

Federal Reserve Open Market Committee minutes from the panel's December meeting released early on Thursday showed that no committee member anticipated a rate cut in 2023, something that has been talked about here in Australia.

Sectors were mixed on Thursday with five lower, four higher and two - property and telecommunications - basically flat.

Energy was the biggest mover, dipping 1.43 per cent as Brent crude dipped under $US78 a barrel for the first time since December 12, having traded for $US86 a barrel just two days ago.

Woodside dropped 1.7 per cent to $33.91, Beach fell 2.5 per cent to $1.54 and Santos declined 0.9 per cent to $6.90.

Qantas, whose biggest expense is jet fuel - which is linked to the price of oil - gained 2.3 per cent to $6.21.

Coalminers were mostly down despite reports China had told three central government-backed utilities and its top steelmaker to resume Australian coal imports after unofficially banning them in 2020.

Whitehaven fell 1.5 per cent to $8.98, New Hope declined 0.7 per cent to $5.87 and Yancoal was flat at $5.78, although Stanmore Resources did gain 3.1 per cent to $3.

Traders may have "bought the rumour, sold the news" as the saying goes, given that all except Stanmore had a better day on Wednesday.

Ms Lee said worries around China's growth in the short term continue to weigh on the energy sector.

In the heavyweight materials sector, BHP was basically flat at $46.05, Fortescue gained 0.3 per cent to $21.03 and Rio Tinto declined 0.5 per cent to $116.80.

Goldminers were hitting six-month highs, however, as the precious metal traded above $US1855 an ounce for the first time since June.

Newcrest had added 2.8 per cent, Northern Star had gained 1.6 per cent and Evolution was 2.9 per cent higher.

The big banks were mostly up with NAB the biggest gainer, rising 0.9 per cent to $29.94, while CBA climbed 0.2 per cent to $103.32 and Westpac inched 0.1 per cent higher at $23.47. ANZ was flat at $23.62.

In the healthcare sector, CSL was down 1.2 per cent to $280.51 as the Aussie dollar gained ground against its US counterpart, which CSL makes most of its money from. ResMed, which is in the same boat, dropped 1.3 per cent to $30.89.

Back in the mining sector, Core Lithium climbed 7.8 per cent to a three-week high of $1.11 as a cargo ship carrying its first-ever shipment of spodumene concentrate set sail from Darwin Port to a customer in China.

The ore is from its new Finniss lithium mine near Darwin. While the name of the buyer of this shipment wasn't disclosed, Core Lithium does have an offtake agreement with Tesla Motors, which will use the lithium spodumene concentrate in making lithium-ion batteries for its electric cars.

The Australian dollar meanwhile gained ground on China's reported resumption of Australian coal imports, buying 68.27 US cents, from 67.99 US cents at Wednesday's ASX close.


* The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index closed Thursday up 4.4 points, or 0.06 per cent, to 7063.6.

* The broader All Ordinaries gained 10.2 points, or 0.14 per cent, to 7259.3.


One Australian dollar buys:

* 68.27 US cents, from 67.99 US cents at Wednesday's ASX close

* 90.39 Japanese yen, from 88.85 Japanese yen

* 64.31 Euro cents, from 64.30 Euro cents

* 56.71 British pence, from 56.70 British pence

* 108.53 NZ cents, from 108.34 NZ cents.