Shares pushed ahead despite the challenges of softer iron ore, oil and gold prices and a stronger dollar as a slew of quarterly production reports showed Australian resource producers are continuing to increase supply.
The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index rose 33.9 points, or 0.6 per cent, on Thursday to 5454.2, while the broader All Ordinaries Index also added 0.6 per cent to 5444.8, with Westpac and Woolworths leading the gains while Woodside Petroleum hit its highest price since July 2011.
Local shares took a positive lead from offshore after markets in the United States and around Europe climbed following a speech by US Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen that reassured investors that US monetary policy will remain supportive.
Trading volumes were light ahead of the Easter holiday. The market will re-open on Tuesday for a three day week with the Anzac Day holiday falling next Friday. The ASX 200 added 1.8 per cent over the short trading week.
“Shares rallied in Thursday morning trading as investors added a few more eggs into their baskets ahead of the Easter break,” Patersons Securities chief economist Tony Farnham said.
“The local market was not overly fussed by the soft spots apparent the US economy as evident in the Google and IBM Corp March quarter results released overnight.”
The big four banks all pushed higher on Thursday. Westpac Banking Corporation did the most to lift the index up 1 per cent to $34.94. Commonwealth Bank of Australia rose 0.5 per cent to $77.57, ANZ Banking Group gained 0.7 per cent to $33.88, and National Australia Bank added 0.5 per cent to $35.36.
Supermarket giant Woolworths lifted 2.1 per cent to $37.09 after broker UBS upgraded the stock from a “neutral” to a “buy” in response to an improved earnings outlook for the retail group’s stores that also include Big W and Masters.
Main rival Wesfarmers, owner of Coles, K-Mart, Target and Bunnings, rose 0.6 per cent to $42.98.
Telstra Corporation rose 0.6 per cent at $5.13.
Wealth management group Challenger Ltd was the best-performing stock in the ASX 200, climbing 4.2 per cent to $6.72 after announcing it will launch a new business, Whitehelm Capital, with $4 billion under management in partnership with United Kingdom funds manager Access Capital Advisers.
On Wednesday Challenger showed its total assets and funds under management grew 21 per cent for the 12 months to 31 March 2014, having added 1 per cent in the March quarter.
Mining stocks were mostly lower following softer commodity prices overnight and a mixed bag of quarterly reports.
Resources giant BHP Billiton bucked the trend up 0.4 per cent to $38.10, while main rival Rio Tinto was unchanged at $63.37 as the spot price for iron ore, landed in China, dipped 0.8 per cent to $US116.20 a tonne. The two biggest miners delivered quarterly production report this week that met expectations.
Iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group dropped 1.1 per cent to $5.33 after its production figures missed analysts expectations on Wednesday.
Australia’s biggest oil producer Woodside Petroleum added 1 per cent to a near three-year high of $40 after reporting a 16 per cent gain in March quarter revenues thanks to the re-start of production at an oil venture in Western Australia. Oil and gas producer Santos dipped 0.2 per cent to $13.42 despite reporting a 28 per cent jump in first quarter sales.
Goldmining heavyweight Newcrest Mining, fell 0.8 per cent to $10.24 as the precious metal’s spot price declined.
Mining services labour company Skilled Group was the worst-performing stock in the ASX 200, falling 2.1 per cent at $2.75.
In an encouraging sign for the pipeline of initial public offerings, aged care group Japara Healthcare closed 35 per cent above its initial public offer price of $2 per share at $2.70, while New Zealand utilities company Genesis Energy lifted 1 per cent on listing to $1.68.