ASX has highest close since COVID crash

Shares on the Australian market closed at their highest level since the start of the coronavirus crash, after Joe Biden pledged tax credits for Americans and US financial authorities kept rates low.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index closed higher by 17.6 points, or 0.25 per cent, to 7082.3.

It is less than 100 points from its record close of 7162.49, and little more than 100 points from its record high of 7197.2.

Both were set in February 2020, days before investors sold shares due to the coronavirus threat.

The All Ordinaries on Thursday closed better by 26 points, or 0.36 per cent, to 7346 points.

Information technology shares were best, and rose 2.25 per cent.

Afterpay jumped 3.5 per cent to $120.50 after signing Kiwi bank Novatti to provide Afterpay-branded cards in digital wallets.

Health shares were second best, up 0.85 per cent. Market giant CSL gained 0.92 per cent to $273.49.

There was plenty happening in the US.

President Joe Biden proposed spending $US1 trillion ($A1.3 trillion) on education and childcare over 10 years.

He also wants to give $US800 billion ($A1.0 trillion) in tax credits to middle and low-income families.

The proposal is the president's latest to help the economy.

CommSec market analyst James Tao said the proposal made no direct impact on Aussie shares, but US futures were higher and would later influence trade.

Earlier, the US Federal Reserve held interest rates and its monthly bond-buying program steady and gave no sign it was ready to reduce support.

The decisions came towards the end of the Wall Street session. Indices closed lower.

On the ASX, Woolworths posted a slight increase in group sales for the third quarter, but food sales declined after a sales surge from the coronavirus last year.

For the 13 weeks to April 4, food sales in Australia were down 2.1 per cent on a comparable basis to $11.09 billion. New Zealand food sales were down 7.5 per cent.

However, overall group sales were up 0.4 per cent to $16.56 billion, helped by Big W and Endeavour Drinks.

Shares dropped 3.86 per cent to $39.81.

Iron ore miner Fortescue warned full-year capital costs will increase due to the rising Australian dollar and major projects.

The miner increased its capital costs estimate for the full year from $US3 billion to $US3.4 billion ($A3.9 billion to $A4.4 billion), to $US3.5 billion to $US3.7 billion ($A4.5 billion to $A4.8 billion).

This was due to the rising dollar, works at its Iron Bridge magnetite project south of Port Hedland and efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

Shares were down 0.18 per cent to $22.58.

BHP and Rio Tinto gained less than one per cent to $48.66 and $123.22 respectively.

One of the biggest moves belonged to building materials provider Maas Group, which rose 16.05 per cent to $4.05.

Maas paid $12.71 million for the Amcor Quarries and Amcor Excavations businesses, both in central Queensland.

Maas also paid $10 million to buy the NSW quarry business Willow Tree Gravels.

Financial adviser IOOF said it improved funds under management during the March quarter by $1.5 billion to $203.9 billion.

There was an increase of 5.4 billion in its markets division, due to favourable conditions.

In banking, the big four dropped less than one per cent.

On Friday, AMP executives can expect plenty of questions from shareholders at the annual general meeting.

The company recently declared a demerger of AMP Capital's private markets business, after sale talks failed.

The Australian dollar was buying 77.89 US cents at 1715 AEST, higher from 77.48 US cents at Wednesday's close.

ON THE ASX

* The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index closed higher by 17.6 points, or 0.25 per cent, to 7082.3 on Thursday.

* The All Ordinaries closed better by 26 points, or 0.36 per cent, to 7346 points.

* At 1715 AEST, the SPI200 futures index was higher by one point, or 0.01 per cent, to 7062.

CURRENCY SNAPSHOT

One Australian dollar buys:

* 77.89 US cents, from 77.48 cents on Wednesday

* 84.73 Japanese yen, from 84.36 yen

* 64.26 Euro cents, from 64.15 cents

* 55.80 British pence, from 55.78 pence

* 107.32 NZ cents, from 107.45 cents.

Austrlaian Associated PressBack to Breaking News

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