Australia shares gain on rate cut prospects; NZ up

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* Weak jobs data continues to fuel rate cut hopes

* IOOF biggest gainer on Aussie index after court case dismissal

* Miners and energy stocks support benchmark

By Rashmi Ashok

Sept 23 (Reuters) – Australian shares rose on Monday, boosted by rising bets the central bank could cut interest rates as early as October after weak jobs data last week sparked expectations of more stimulus.

The country’s jobless rate worsened to a one-year high of 5.3% in August, data showed on Thursday, raising the probability the Reserve Bank of Australia may cut rates at its next policy meeting on Oct. 1. The S&P/ASX 200 index rose for a third straight session, adding 32.8 points to 6,762.80 by 0139 GMT. The benchmark rose 0.2% on Friday.

“One of the big movers for the Aussie market has been the job numbers coming through last Thursday basically lifting expectations of the interest rate cut to be brought forward to October,” said James Tao, market analyst at CommSec.

“The low interest rate environment generally fosters more investment into equities and has helped give the Aussie market a bit of a boost in the past few sessions,” he added.

Further adding to the upbeat sentiment, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office released a statement saying U.S. and Chinese negotiators had held “productive” talks in Washington, fuelling hopes that both nations were making progress towards a trade deal.

Mining stocks logged firm gains, with iron ore majors Fortescue Metals Group and Rio Tinto rising between 1% and 0.7%, respectively. Mining giant BHP inched slightly higher.

Financials also posted small gains, largely boosted by wealth manager IOOF Holdings, which racked up the biggest gain on the index.

IOOF’s stock jumped 9%, adding to Friday’s substantial gains which came after a court ruled that the country’s banking watchdog had not proved its case alleging that IOOF had breached pension laws.

Specialty retailer Premier Investments was the index’s second-biggest gainer, adding 5.8%. The company defied a retail downturn in the country to post a surge in annual profit, with shares recording their best session in nearly 18 years on Friday.

A 1% jump in oil prices supported energy stocks, with Beach Energy adding 2.7%. Woodside Petroleum Ltd 1.2% while Santos 0.6%.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.3% or 30.76 points to 10,860.15.

Dairy giant a2 Milk Company Ltd rose 2.5%, while telco Spark New Zealand Ltd added 1.4%.

Reporting by Rashmi Ashok and Shreya Mariam Job in Bengaluru;
Editing by Jacqueline Wong

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