ASX closes lower, AUD tops 79 US cents
Australia's share market closed marginally lower while the Australian dollar reached its highest level in almost three years, spurred by metal prices.
The S&P/ASX200 benchmark index closed lower by 12.9 points, or 0.19 per cent, to 6780.9 on Monday.
The All Ordinaries closed lower by 2.4 points, or 0.03 per cent, at 7061.6.
Health had the biggest decline, 2.17 per cent, while there were losses of more than one per cent for consumer discretionaries, information technology and telecommunications.
The materials sector, fuelled by rising metal prices, was the only one which closed higher and rose 2.58 per cent.
Copper prices jumped on Monday to top the $US9,000 a tonne level for the first time since September 2011, mainly driven by expectation of a pick-up in demand after the Chinese New Year.
Westpac head of foreign exchange strategy Richard Franulovich noticed iron ore prices were higher too.
"The most eye-catching development is the surge in base metals prices," he said.
"There has been a lot of chat in the last few days of another commodities super cycle."
China's economic appetite, hopes of more fiscal stimulus and the coronavirus vaccine being given out were all helping commodities, according to Mr Franulovich.
The interest in commodities helped the Australian dollar rise to 79.09 US cents on Monday, its highest level since March 2018.
National Australia Bank head of foreign exchange strategy Ray Attrill said the Aussie could reach 80 US cents before the end of the first quarter.
In the US, there were moderate moves in markets on Friday.
Stocks closed little changed as investors sold technology shares that have rallied through the pandemic and moved into those set to benefit once the pandemic is subdued.
In Australia, injections of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine continued after the first shots on Sunday.
Health and border control workers, and aged care residents and carers are among early recipients.
On the ASX, big miners BHP, Fortescue and Rio Tinto gained more than three per cent from the commodities spike.
BlueScope declared a 78 per cent rise in first-half net profit after tax to $330.3 billion.
The board approved an interim dividend of six cents per share, in line with last year.
Shares were higher by 2.26 per cent to $17.67.
Fuel refiner Ampol posted a full-year loss of $485 million after coronavirus restrictions limited travel.
Chief executive Matthew Halliday said travel and aviation fuel demand had been affected by the pandemic.
Shares were down 2.72 per cent to $25.77.
Property developer Lendlease posted a first-half earnings decline of 37 per cent after COVID-19 stifled building development.
The company reported net profit after tax of $196 million, and a loss of $7 million from having to revalue properties.
Shares were lower by 1.35 per cent to $11.73.
ME Bank agreed to a $1.32 billion takeover from Bank of Queensland, and said it will make an alternative powerhouse.
BOQ said the acquisition would be funded by an underwritten capital raising of $1.35 billion.
The combined group will have assets of more than $88 billion and deposits of about $56 billion.
BOQ shares were in a trading halt and last traded for $8.41.
In banking, ANZ was lower by 0.41 per cent to $26.50, the Commonwealth was lower by 0.74 per cent to $81.90, NAB was down 2.15 per cent to $24.57 and Westpac dipped 1.54 per cent to $23.72.
On Tuesday, companies reporting earnings will include Oil Search, job search platform Seek and engineering group Worley.
The Aussie dollar was buying 78.78 US cents at 1720 AEDT, higher from 77.71 US cents at Friday's close.
ON THE ASX
* The S&P/ASX200 benchmark index closed lower by 12.9 points, or 0.19 per cent, to 6780.9 on Monday.
* The All Ordinaries closed lower by 2.4 points, or 0.03 per cent, at 7061.6.
* At 1720 AEDT, the SPI200 futures index was higher by three points, or 0.04 per cent, at 6716 points.
One Australian dollar buys:
* 78.78 US cents, from 77.71 cents on Friday
* 83.21 Japanese yen, from 82.22 yen
* 64.99 Euro cents, from 64.36 cents
* 56.22 British pence, from 55.70 pence
* 107.78 NZ cents, from 107.75 cents.
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