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ASX falls short of new post-GFC high

The Australian share market closed flat on Thursday, falling back from a new post-GFC intra-day high after a late slump in banking stocks.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index ended Thursday 0.4 points, or 0.01 per cent, lower at 6,351.8 points, while the broader All Ordinaries index was up 3.5 points, or 0.05 per cent, at 6,460.5 points.

CMC Markets' chief strategist Michael McCarthy said a positive local reporting season, where companies have shown an average 12 per cent earnings growth, has been a boost for the ASX.

"It's a bit of a sweet spot for investors at the moment," he said.

"While we're seeing good growth coming through at the macro level and at the corporate reporting level, interest rates have not risen aggressively so far.

"And so we have got low rates and a good growth outlook, and that of course tends to lift shares."

The telco sector gained strongly after the announcement Vodafone Australia and TPG Telecom will merge into a single $15 billion telecommunications giant.

James McGlew, executive director of corporate stockbroking at Argonaut, said the deal will likely ease competition with rivals such as Telstra and Optus.

"This is going to lead to a decrease in competition for Telstra and either way the market is embracing a sector that has been in the doghouse for a while," Mr McGlew said .

Telstra shares were 2.9 per cent higher at $3.23, while TPG ended the day up 18.2 per cent at $9.31.

Commonwealth Bank led losses for the big four banks, down 1.5 per cent to $72.15, while ANZ was down 0.1 per cent to $29.39, NAB fell 0.6 per cent to $28.30 and Westpac was down 0.8 per cent to $28.65.

Australia's largest private hospital operator, Ramsay Health Care, reported a 20.6 per cent fall in full-year profit after recording about $150 million of writedowns and restructuring costs.

Ramsay shares closed 6.3 per cent lower at $54.48.

But another positive day for CSL, one of the largest companies listed on the ASX, helped lift the healthcare sector to positive territory.

CSL's shares gained 1.3 per cent to $226.30.

The Australian dollar took a hit earlier in the day after data showed business investment data fell 2.5 per cent in the three months to June, well short of market expectations of a 0.6 per cent increase for the quarter.

The Aussie was buying 72.88 cents US cents at 1700 AEST, down from 73.03 US cents on Wednesday.

ON THE ASX:

* The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was 0.4 points, or 0.01 per cent, lower at 6,351.8 points

* The All Ordinaries index was up 3.5 points, or 0.05 per cent, at 6,460.5 points

* In futures trading the SPI200 futures index was down 14 points, or 0.22 per cent, to 6,323 points at 1630 AEST

CURRENCY SNAPSHOT AT 1700 AEST:

One Australian dollar buys:

* 72.88 US cents, from 73.03 US cents on Wednesday

* 81.39 Japanese yen, from 81.24

* 62.29 euro cents, from 62.57

* 55.94 British pence, from 56.8

* 109.58 NZ cents, from 109.07

GOLD:

The spot price of gold in Sydney at 1700 AEST was $US1,202.47 per fine ounce, down from $US1,203.16 per fine ounce on Wednesday.

Austrlaian Associated PressBack to Breaking News

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