Australia Markets closed

Aust shares cling to positive territory

Aaron Saldanha and Peter Trute
Australian shares have stayed in the green at thanks to the materials sector

Australian shares have ended Monday slightly higher despite falls for the major banks, as mining stocks gained ground and reporting season began its busiest week.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index ended the day up 5.8 points, or 0.09 per cent, at 6,345.0 points, while the All Ordinaries was up 8.9 points, or 0.14 per cent, at 6,435.1 points.

Materials stocks climbed in line with gains on Asian markets as upcoming talks between China and the United States raised the prospect that damaging retaliatory tariffs threatened by each country may be avoided.

"We've had some positive leads from international trading... in particular, news of an agreement between China and the US that both sides were looking to put in place by November, turned sentiment around," said Michael McCarthy, chief strategist at CMC Markets and Stockbroking.

Locally Fortescue Metals rose 1.2 per cent to $4.26 after the miner said it would produce a 60 percent iron content product in the second half of the fiscal 2019, combating the widening discount for its lower grade ore.

Fortescue, the world's fourth-largest iron ore miner, reported a full-year net profit of $US879 million, down from $US2.09 billion a year ago and missing analyst estimates of $US1.08 billion.

Global miner BHP rose for the first time in four sessions to end Monday 1.3 per cent higher at $33.17 while rival Rio Tinto added 0.3 per cent to $73.35.

Consumer stocks went backwards as Wesfarmers traded ex-dividend and Woolworths posted a 12.5 per cent jump in full-year net profit but flagged a slowdown in sales at the start of the new financial year.

Woolies blamed its decision to remove free plastic shopping bags from checkouts for the slowdown, saying customers had not taken well to the move.

Wesfarmers lost 1.3 per cent to close at $51.83 while Woolworths dipped 0.6 per cent to close at $29.41.

Gloves and safetywear maker Ansell lost 7.2 per cent to $25.80 after it warned that its annual earnings could fall, citing uncertainty over costs and tariffs on US imports

Ansell's 2017/18 net profit surged to $US484.3 million ($662.4 million) from $US147.7 million a year earlier, bolstered by a US$345 million gain on the sale of its condoms business, Sexual Wellness.

Health insurer NIB reported an 11 per cent rise in annual net profit to $132.4 million, boosted by improved profitability in its Australian business thanks to a slowdown in the cost of claims.

NIB shares closed three cents higher at $6.62.

The major banks all ended lower, with Commonwealth Bank down 0.9 per cent to $73.61, ANZ down 0.8 per cent to $30.05, NAB 0.3 per cent lower at $28.77 and Westpac down 0.6 per cent at $30.14.

The Australian dollar made its way back above 73 US cents as the planned US-China trade talks boosted optimism that trade tensions - and any resulting impact on Chinese demand for iron ore - would dissipate.

The Australian dollar was buying 73.03 US cents at 1700 AEST, up from 72.71 US cents on Friday.

ON THE ASX:

* The benchmark S&P/ASX200 closed up 5.8 points, or 0.09 per cent, at 6,345.0 points

* The All Ordinaries was up 8.9 points, or 0.14 per cent, at 6,435.1 points.

* In futures trading the SPI200 futures index was up 15 points, or 0.24 per cent, at 6,314 points.

CURRENCY SNAPSHOT AT 1700 AEST:

One Australian dollar buys:

* 73.03 US cents, from 72.71 US cents on Friday

* 80.782 Japanese yen, from 80.531

* 63.96 euro cents, from 63.85

* 57.32 British pence, from 57.1

* 110.40 NZ cents, from 110.23

GOLD:

The spot price of gold in Sydney at 1700 AEST was $US1,186.47 per fine ounce, down from $US1,174.44 per fine ounce on Friday.