ASX down, dollar stays above 79 US cents | Ralph-Lauren

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Australia’s share market was lower and major sectors down after moderate moves on US markets earlier.

The S&P/ASX200 benchmark index was lower by 37.4 points, or 0.54 per cent, to 6801.8 at 1200 AEDT on Wednesday.

The All Ordinaries was lower by 37.2 points, or 0.52 per cent, at 7073.6.

The sizeable materials sector, which has climbed higher this week from increasing metals prices, fell 1.49 per cent.

Copper prices rose to a nine-year high but the pace of its gains slowed as stock markets fell.

Financials was down 0.26 per cent.

There were greater declines for the smaller sectors of telecommunications, 2.46 per cent, and information technology, 1.72 per cent.

In the US, the S&P 500 and Dow Jones had minor gains as investors favoured shares that stand to gain most as vaccine deployment allows economic restrictions to be lifted. The Nasdaq slipped by half a per cent.

US Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell argued against concerns that the central bank’s economic support increased the risk of spiralling inflation.

“The economic recovery remains uneven and far from complete, and the path ahead is highly uncertain,” Powell said in testimony to the Senate Banking Committee.

Mr Powell said the labour market had slowed and millions of Americans remained out of work.

In Australia, there was little good news for workers in the wage cost index.

Wages increased by a slim 0.6 per cent in the December quarter, double what economists were expecting, and improving on the 0.1 per cent rise in the previous three months.

Yet the rise failed to lift the annual rate from a record low of 1.4 per cent.

Meanwhile, South Australia will drop its remaining COVID-19 border restrictions with Victoria from Friday, allowing travellers from Melbourne.

On the ASX, supermarket giant Woolworths has posted a near 16 per cent jump in first-half profits, aided by soaring online sales during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Net profit after tax was 15.9 per cent higher at $1.1 billion with group sales rising 10.6 per cent to $35.8 billion and eCommerce sales surging 77.9 per cent to $2.8 billion.

The board declared a dividend of 53 cents per share, up 15.2 per cent on the prior year.

Shares were up 0.89 per cent at $39.44.

Nine Entertainment reported a 79 per cent gain in first-half earnings after advertising increased by more than company leaders expected.

Nine reported a net profit after tax of $181.8 million, helped by advertisers spending more as Australia better controlled the coronavirus.

Shareholders will receive an interim dividend of five cents per share, fully franked. This was the same as the previous interim payout.

Shares were higher by 5.99 per cent to $2.83.

One of the biggest movers on the market was SeaLink Travel Group, which rose 14.16 per cent to $8.06.

The company provides transport, including bus and light rail services, in Australia, London and Singapore.

Its purchase last year of Transit Systems Group helped first-half net profit jump to $32 million, from $8.7 million in the previous corresponding period.

In mining, BHP was down 2.04 per cent to $49.40, Fortescue slipped 0.76 per cent to $24.65 and Rio Tinto shed 1.72 per cent to $127.76.

In banking, NAB was the only member of the big four to be higher and rose 0.36 per cent to $24.94.

The others were lower by less than one per cent.

The Australian dollar was buying 79.21 US cents at 1200 AEDT, higher from 79.18 US cents at Tuesday’s close.

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