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Aust stocks up as trade war fears ease

Trevor Chappell
AAP

The Australian share market has closed higher as fears of an escalating China-US trade war eased, at least for now, and Australia's big four banks made gains.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index ended Thursday up 27.4 points, or 0.48 per cent at 5,788.8 points and the All Ordinaries closed up 24.3 points, or 0.41 per cent, at 5,888 points.

CommSec market analyst Steve Daghlian said the Australian market had made gains for two straight sessions after being close to six-month lows.

"What's been moving markets most recently is still the trade war concerns between the US and China - the story seems to be changing pretty much on a daily basis,"' he said.

"One day there are concerns of tit-for-tat tariffs.

"Overnight we had both the representative for the White House, Larry Kudlow, and the Chinese ambassador both coming back saying they're open to negotiating and none of the tariffs have been put in place yet."

US President Donald Trump's administration has proposed 25 per cent tariffs on about $US50 billion of Chinese industrial, technology, transport and medical products, and China has retaliated with similar duties on $US50 billion of major American imports including soybeans, planes, cars, beef and chemicals.

Gains from the big four banks outweighed losses among mining stocks on the local bourse on Thursday.

ANZ ended the day up 1.0 per cent at $26.81, Commonwealth Bank climbed 1.4 per cent to $73.80, Westpac lifted 1.1 per cent to $29.06, and National Australia Bank improved 1.3 per cent to $28.87.

Following falls in the iron ore price, BHP Billiton fell 0.7 per cent to $28.51, Rio Tinto slipped 1.2 per cent to $73.30, and Fortescue Metals surrendered 3.2 per cent to $4.22.

Oil and gas producers lifted despite an overnight fall in oil prices, with Woodside Petroleum up 0.4 per cent to $29.78, Santos picking up 0.2 per cent to $5.85, and Oil Search adding 0.6 per cent to $7.24.

Retailer Harvey Norman dropped 14 cents, or 3.8 per cent, to $3.58 after trading ex-dividend.

Dairy processor Murray Goulburn's listed entity, the MG Unit Trust, was off 0.5 cents, or 0.5 per cent, at 95 cents after Murray Goulburn shareholders voted in favour of a takeover by Canadian dairy giant Saputo.

Meanwhile, the Australian dollar had climbed above 77.2 US cents earlier on Thursday but soon fell back in choppy trading.

Mr Daghlian said Australia's international trade figures released on Thursday had had little impact on the local currency and the Aussie appeared to be range-bound.

The Aussie was trading at 76.95 US cents at 1630 AEST, up from 76.93 US cents on Wednesday.

Australia's trade surplus in February fell to $825 million from a revised $952 million surplus in January, with exports flat and a slight rise in imports.

ON THE ASX:

* The benchmark S&P/ASX200 closed up 27.4 points, or 0.48 per cent, at 5,788.8 points

* The broader All Ordinaries index ended up 24.3 points, or 0.41 per cent, at 5,888 points

* The SPI200 futures contract was up 27 points, or 0.47 per cent, at 5,770 points.

* National turnover was 3 billion securities traded worth $5.4 billion.

CURRENCY SNAPSHOT AT 1700 AEST:

One Australian dollar buys:

* 76.93 US cents, level with Wednesday

* 82.36 Japanese yen, from 82.04 yen

* 62.75 euro cents, from 62.71 euro cents

* 54.75 British pence, from 54.68 pence

* 105.55 NZ cents, from 105.59 cents

GOLD:

The spot price of gold in Sydney at 1700 AEST was $US1,325.923 per fine ounce, from $US1,334.49 per fine ounce on Wednesday.

BOND SNAPSHOT AT 1630 AEST:

* CGS 4.50 per cent April 2020, 2.0427pct, from 2.059pct on Wednesday

* CGS 4.75pct April 2027, 2.6383pct, from 2.6123pct

Sydney Futures Exchange prices:

* June 2018 10-year bond futures contract was 97.32 (implying a yield of 2.68pct), from 97.36 (2.64pct) on Wednesday

* June 2018 3-year bond futures contract was 97.82 (2.18pct), unchanged