The Australian share market inched higher in subdued action as a US long weekend capped trading volumes ahead of economic data later in the week.
The S&P/ASX 200 closed five points or 0.06 per cent higher after dipping to a five-week low.
Solid gains for the heavily-weighted banks and major miners helped offset poorly-received trading updates from NIB Holdings, BlueScope Steel, a2 Milk and Charter Hall Group. Poultry specialist Inghams, insurer QBE and public transport provider Kelsian provided the session’s best returns.
What moved the market
The market took a breather ahead of risk events later in the week. Tonight’s US President’s Day market holiday removed US traders from the mix, reducing volumes and intraday volatility.
Trading is expected to hot up later in the week with minutes from the latest Reserve Bank and Federal Reserve policy meetings, Australian wages data and US inflation figures.
The modest shift in the headline figure masks substantial stock-specific moves. NIB, BlueScope, a2 Milk and Charter Hall lost between 6 and 11.6 per cent as the interim earnings season rolled into its final full week.
The rewards for companies exceeding expectations today were more modest. Reliance Worldwide, Ampol and Bendigo & Adelaide Bank gained between 1.7 and 3.4 per cent.
US stocks limped into the long weekend as markets priced in the possibility of another three rate hikes this year. Treasury yields climbed on Friday to levels last seen in November.
The S&P 500 lost 0.28 per cent. The Nasdaq gave up 0.58 per cent. The increasingly defensive tone on markets helped lift the blue chips of the Dow 0.39 per cent.
The ASX 200 is coming off a two-week losing streak as investors face up to the possibility of another three rate increases here. ANZ and NAB both raised their interest rate projections to 4.1 per cent on Friday. The cash rate target currently sits at 3.35 per cent.
Kelsian rallied 3.4 per cent after winning an eight-year contract to operate buses in south-western Sydney. The contract with Transport for NSW is worth more than $500 million in revenue through to 2031.
Strong growth in US earnings helped lift Reliance Worldwide 2.01 per cent. The plumbing supply specialist reported a 15 per cent increase in first-half net sales. Sales in the Americas jumped 28 per cent from the prior corresponding period.
News of a special dividend and record full-year earnings lifted Ampol 1.7 per cent to a five-month high. Earnings jumped 124 per cent to $1.137 billion. Shareholders will receive a special dividend of 50 cents per share in addition to the final dividend of $1.05.
Broker upgrades catapulted poultry specialist Inghams up 11.68 per cent. Macquarie and Morgans both raised their ratings following Friday’s trading update.
Link Administration firmed 2.39per cent after beating its first-half guidance. The group expects 1H operating earnings of $80.2 million, topping its forecast range of $75-$80 million.
Aurizon rallied 0.58 per cent after winning an 11-year contract from Team Global Express to provide linehaul services between Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth. The deal is the rail freight haulage firm’s largest non-coal revenue contract to date.
Shareholders welcomed a 49.3 per cent increase in first-half net profit at Bendigo & Adelaide Bank. Net interest margins improved 19 basis points. The share price firmed 1.87 per cent.
Software firm Nuix rose 2.34 per cent after reporting a $1.3 million first-half net profit. Earnings improved 51.6 per cent from 1H22 to $20.9 million.
An upgraded earnings outlook helped boost travel agent Helloworld 6.37 per cent. The company expects full-year earnings of $28-$32 million, raised from $22-$26 million after first-half underlying earnings of $15.6 million.
NAB was the pick of the heavyweights, rising 1.51 per cent. Next-best were Fortescue Metals +1.44 per cent, Commonwealth Bank +1.25 per cent and Westpac +1.10 per cent. BHP firmed 0.96 per cent.
BlueScope Steel dropped 9.99 per cent after forecasting a weaker second half as steel spreads soften. The steel-maker expects underlying earnings of $480-$550 million this half, down from $614 million through the first six months.
NIB Holdings slumped 11.59 per cent after first-half net profit fell short of expectations and the firm declined to give full-year guidance. The health insurer reported a 12.8 per cent increase in post-tax net profit to $91.6 million. The analyst consensus was for a result nearer $110 million.
Property group Charter Hall fell 6.06 per cent following a 56.3 per cent decline in half-year profit. Revenues contracted 16.4 per cent. The company reaffirmed its full-year earnings guidance.
Milk formula company a2 shed 8.59 per cent after warning it expects market challenges in China to continue following fewer births last year. The company reaffirmed expectations for low full-year double-digit revenue growth.
Lithium miners declined after a three-month retreat in prices triggered heavy falls among US miners on Friday. Piedmont Lithium dived 13.59 per cent, broadly in line with Friday’s 12.22 per cent slide in its US listing.
Pilbara Minerals lost 5.41 per cent, Sayona Mining 4.65 per cent and Core Lithium 4.17 per cent.
Among other companies reporting, GPT Group fell 1.72 per cent, Chorus 2.6 per cent, Event 1.2 per cent, Iress 1.3 per cent and Northern Star 1.49 per cent. Adairs put on 1.69 per cent..
Among stocks trading ex-dividend, Wesfarmers eased 1.45 per cent, Ansell 0.48 per cent and Vicinity Centres 1.91 per cent.
The Asia Dow firmed 0.42 per cent in afternoon trade as China’s Shanghai Composite gained 0.99 per cent and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng added 0.81 per cent. Japan’s Nikkei dipped 0.02 per cent.
US futures largely overcame early weakness ahead of tonight’s market holiday. S&P 500 futures were recently off a point or 0.03 per cent.
Gold trimmed three weeks of losses, bouncing US$1.50 or 0.1 per cent to US$1,851.70 an ounce.
Brent crude gained traction in afternoon trade, rising 41 US cents or 0.5 per cent to US$83.41 a barrel.
The dollar rebounded 0.32 per cent to 68.91 US cents.