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Australia: Shares down on Wall St, Qantas rallies; NZ up on a2 Milk boom


[BENGALURU] Australian shares edged lower on Thursday on weakness on Wall Street, while investors picked winners and losers among a barrage of earnings reports, with global miner BHP bouncing from a losses this week and Qantas Airways rallying on strong profits.

Qantas Airways' first-half underlying profit touched an all-time high, sending its stock up 9.8 per cent, the most in over 2-1/2-years.

BHP was the benchmark's dominant contributor, gaining 1.2 per cent after losing ground over the past few days. The mining giant's half-year results on Tuesday undershot expectations, although shareholders enjoyed a dividend boost.

Rival Rio Tinto was steady.

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Australia's S&P/ASX 200 index lost 0.1 per cent, or 6 points to 5,937.7 by 0043 GMT, dragged lower by energy and real estate stocks. The benchmark, which posted meagre gains on Wednesday, was partially held back by a weak lead from Wall Street overnight Real estate stocks underperformed, as landlord Charter Hall Group reported a 30 per cent fall in half-year net profit. Its stock fell as much as 1.4 per cent.

Energy stocks slipped 1.2 per cent, led by Woodside Petroleum, which lost as much as 3.5 per cent to touch levels last seen in October.

West Texas Intermediate crude (WTI) futures ended 0.2 per cent lower ahead of data expected to show rising crude inventories in the United States.

The benchmark's top gainer was Nine Entertainment Holdings, up as much as 22.7 per cent on a jump in its half-year underlying profit.

Smaller stocks were also in the spotlight, led by New Zealand's a2 Milk Company Ltd, which surged 22 per cent after first half profit hit a record thanks to higher demand in China.

"The micro stories are really supporting the index today. We are seeing staples flying today, a2 Milk is absolutely on fire,"said Chris Weston, chief market strategist at IG Markets.

Other results that were influencing trade included online travel booking firm Webjet, which rose 21.1 per cent to its highest level since August after half-year revenue rose more than two and a half times.

Across the Tasman Sea, consumer staples stocks again supported the market in New Zealand, where the S&P/NZX 50 index rose 1.4 per cent, or 117.27 points, to 8,317.54.

Shares of a2 Milk Company jumped over 24.4 per cent to another all-time high.

Air New Zealand Ltd rose 5.2 per cent after boosting its interim dividend and saying it was headed for its second highest annual profit.