The Australian sharemarket held its gains in afternoon session and finished in positive territory. The energy sector led today’s gains, followed by materials, while real estate weighed.
Energy stocks were on the move today following a rebound in oil prices. Woodside Petroleum (ASX:WPL) eased its gains in the afternoon, closing flat at $32.05, while Santos (ASX:STO) rose 1.3 per cent to $8.10 and Beach Energy (ASX:BPT) closed 0.1 per cent higher at $1.58. Cooper Energy (ASX:COE) added 3.7 per cent to $0.28 after being granted an exploration permit in the Gippsland Basin, offshore Victoria.
Heavyweight miners finished higher, led by Rio Tinto (ASX:RIO) up 2 per cent to $120.50. Fortescue Metals (ASX:FMG) added 0.8 per cent to $21.34 and BHP (ASX:BHP) closed 0.1 per cent higher at $51.78.
Gold stocks posted solid gains, led by Northern Star (ASX:NST) up 1.5 per cent to $10.98 following its plans to sell its Paulsens gold operation and Western Tanami gold project to Black Cat Syndicate for $44.5 million. Evolution Mining (ASX:EVN) rose 1.1 per cent to $4.55 and Newcrest Mining (ASX:NCM) closed 0.2 per cent higher at $27.91.
The second-best performer was EML Payments (ASX:EML), up 10.5 per cent to $2.94 amid takeover talks with private equity firm Bain Capital.
Major banks were mixed, with gains led by Westpac (ASX:WBC) up 0.6 per cent to $24.29. National Australia Bank (ASX:NAB) added 0.4 per cent to $33.07 and ANZ Banking (ASX:ANZ) lifted 0.3 per cent to $27.49, while Macquarie (ASX:MQG) dipped 0.1 per cent to $202.94 and Commonwealth (ASX:CBA) closed 0.2 per cent lower at $106.55.
In terms of broker moves, Morgan Stanley lowered Adbri (ASX:ABC) to equal weight from overweight. Shares closed 4.6 per cent lower at $2.88 and was the worst performer.
At the closing bell, the S&P/ASX 200 was 0.3 per cent or 25 points higher at 7,479.
Local economic news
The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the building activity data for the December quarter of last year. Total dwelling unit commencements fell 13.5 per cent to 50,200 dwellings, new private sector house commencements fell 10.3 per cent to 32,085 dwellings, new private sector other residential commencements fell 19.4 per cent to 17,070 dwellings, and the value of total building work done fell 1.6 per cent to $30.3 billion.
What else was on watch today?
In terms of broker moves, Goldman Sachs reinstated its coverage for Lynas (ASX:LYC) with a neutral rating with a price target of $9.50, while shares fell 1.8 per cent to $9.52. Morningstar bumped Megaport’s (ASX:MP1) rating to a buy from a hold, with shares up 0.8 per cent to $12.01. The analysts at Citi raised Webjet’s (ASX:WEB) rating to a buy with a price target of $6.50, while shares closed 2.5 per cent higher at $5.44.
Iluka Resources (ASX:ILU) closed 1.4 per cent higher at $12.60 following their annual general meeting today. Keep in mind that the company reported net profit after tax for the full year coming in above analysts’ estimates underpinned by strong operating performance and increased demand offsetting supply side challenges. Iluka Resources also announced its plan to demerge its subsidiary Sierra Rutile, in order to focus its capital and attention on its core Australian assets as it heads into the rare earths sector.
Chorus (ASX:CNU) closed 1.9 per cent higher at $6.76 amid news that fibre connections rose to 939,000, with fibre uptake across the completed ultra fast broadband footprint rising to 69 per cent from 67 per cent.
Scrap metals group Sims (ASX:SIM) closed 0.2 per cent higher at $21.89 amid news to take early steps in trying to decarbonise the economy, according to the AFR.
Flight Centre (ASX:FLT) officially purchased an additional 47.5 per cent stake in travel tech business, TP Connects. This came after the company agreed to increase its equity interest from 22.5 per cent to 70 per cent last month. Flight Centre said the acquisition is aimed to shape the future of travel distribution by producing content from multiple sources. Shares closed 2.6 per cent higher at $20.22.
PointsBet (ASX:PBH) launched an online casino product in Pennsylvania following approval from the state’s gaming control board. The move followed the launch of PointsBet’s mobile app and digital sports betting product in the state on February 8. It said Pennsylvania markss the 5th North American state where the company offers its iGaming platform. Shares closed 2.9 per cent higher at $3.15.
Aristocrat Leisure (ASX:ALL) noted that the global search for a new chief financial officer (CFO) is underway following the resignation of Julie Cameron-Doe in December last year. Ms Cameron-Doe’s last day is on Friday, while Aristocrat’s deputy CFO Sally Denby, will support the chief executive officer (CEO) from Friday until a new CFO commences. Shares closed 0.2 per cent higher at $32.86.
Gold miner St Barbara (ASX:SBM) completed the acquisition of Bardoc Gold. This comes after the Supreme Court of Western Australia approved the acquisition earlier this month. New shares under the scheme are set to commence trading on the ASX tomorrow. Shares closed 0.3 per cent lower to $1.46.
The Dow Jones futures are pointing to a rise of 205 points.
The S&P 500 futures are pointing to a rise of 32 points.
The Nasdaq futures are pointing to a rise of 139 points.
The SPI futures are pointing to a rise of 30 points when the market next opens.
Best and worst performers
The best-performing sector was Energy, up almost 1 per cent. The worst-performing sector was Real Estate Investment Trusts, down 0.5 per cent.
The best-performing stock in the S&P/ASX 200 was AVZ Minerals (ASX:AVZ), closing 11.7 per cent higher at $1.15. It was followed by shares in EML Payments (ASX:EML) and Paladin Energy (ASX:PDN).
The worst-performing stock in the S&P/ASX 200 was Adbri (ASX:ABC), closing 4.6 per cent lower at $2.88. It was followed by shares in James Hardie Industries (ASX:JHX) and Perpetual (ASX:PPT).
Japan’s Nikkei has gained almost 2 per cent.
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng has gained 0.7 per cent.
China’s Shanghai Composite is flat.
Commodities and the dollar
Gold is trading at US$1970.21 an ounce.
Iron ore is 2.8 per cent higher at US$154.85 a ton.
Iron ore futures are pointing to a fall of 0.9 per cent.
Light crude is trading $0.30 higher at US$100.45 a barrel.
One Australian dollar is buying 74.53 US cents.