The Australian share market has closed with modest gains, underpinned by a strong healthcare sector marked by a private equity bid for Australia's biggest private hospital operator.
The benchmark S&P/ASX200 ended four points higher, or 0.05 per cent, to close at 7569.2 on Wednesday. The index threatened to touch its record high of 7624.8 struck in August last year before retreating in afternoon trading.
The ASX has been outperforming overseas exchanges, supported by a positive outlook for the national economy and strong jobs market.
Shares in Ramsay Health Care rose 24.2 per cent to $80 after it revealed a $20 billion bid by a consortium led by private equity giant KKR. The offer represents a premium of more than 36 per cent from Ramsay's close on Tuesday.
The ASX healthcare index surged as a result, up 2.58 per cent to 1024.1 points. Almost all major health stocks including CSL, ResMed, Sonic Healthcare and Cochlear were in the green.
The All Ordinaries index rose 1.8 points, or 0.02 per cent, to 7869.7.
Investors started the session in a positive mood even as energy and commodity prices pulled back, denting the appetite for Australia's big miners and oil and gas companies.
Rio Tinto's quarterly iron ore exports dropped eight per cent compared with the same period last year, creating a drag on its share price, down 2.76 per cent to $118.30.
AGL Energy revealed on Wednesday its Loy Yang coal-fired power station had suffered an electrical fault, wiping one-quarter of its generation capacity potentially until August. Its shares fell 3.2 per cent.
Parts of the market have been buoyed by an upbeat outlook for the Australian economy. ANZ said in a research note that travel and entertainment spending increased in the week leading up to Easter.
"Strong spending on accommodation and transport (including local car services, public transport services and airfares) signals that households are not slowing down discretionary spending, despite heightened awareness of inflation," the note said.
Rising inflation is pressuring central banks around the world, including the Reserve Bank of Australia, to increase cash rates, which should prompt households to reduce spending. ANZ noted that households are now googling inflation more than petrol prices.
The US earnings season continues this week with Tesla due to report its first-quarter earnings. Shares in Netflix were sold down heavily in the North American session after the streaming service reported an unexpected decline in first-quarter net subscribers.
The Australian dollar was buying 74.16 US cents at 1700 AEST.
ON THE ASX
* The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index ended four points higher, or 0.05 per cent, to close at 7569.2 on Wednesday.
* The All Ordinaries index rose 1.8 points, or 0.02 per cent, to 7869.7
* At 1700 AEST, the SPI200 futures index was up six points to 7540
One Australian dollar buys:
* 74.16 US cents, from 73.78 US cents when the ASX closed on Tuesday
* 95.37 Japanese yen, from 94.6 yen
* 68.6 Euro cents, from 68.44 cents
* 56.95 British pence, from 56.73 pence
* 109.68 NZ cents, from 109.55 NZ cents.