Australia, NZ: Shares nudge higher with banks, NZ firm

[SYDNEY] Australian shares rose 0.7 per cent on Monday as a firmer Wall Street and upbeat US data helped lift markets across Asia, though a fresh drop in oil prices put the energy sector in the red.

The S&P/ASX 200 index gained 34.6 points to 5,034.6 by 0340 GMT. That followed a US jobs report that was strong enough to reassure on economic growth without being so hot as to bring forward a hike in interest rates there.

Local data, in contrast, were mainly soft, with retail sales flat in February and inflation hitting a seven-month low in March according to the Melbourne Institute.

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) holds its April policy meeting on Tuesday and is widely expected to keep the cash rate at a record low 2 per cent.

Any further weakness in consumer spending and inflation, however, would add to the case for a further easing, perhaps as early as May.

The major banks steadied somewhat, having been hit hard last week by concerns about rising bad debts. Commonwealth Bank bounced 1.2 per cent to A$73.865 having found solid support in the A$72.60/70 zone.

Real estate investment trust GPT Metro Office Fund jumped 3.4 per cent after announcing a A$26.4 million increase in the value of its property portfolio.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.3 per cent or 23 points to 6,730.54 as sentiment got a lift when US markets extended a seven-week rally.

The biggest gainers included Xero, up 3.3 per cent and Steel & Tube, up 3.1 per cent.

Losers were led by Spark, down 1.7 per cent and the Fonterra Shareholders' Fund, which was also down 1.7 per cent.


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