Miners shine as ASX rises; QBE, IAG slump

By Staff reporters

The Australian sharemarket has pared some of its early gains at midday, on the back of a strong Wall Street lead and a rise in commodity prices.

The ASX was 1 per cent higher in early trade but has retreated throughout the morning. It was 32 points, or 0.4 per cent higher at 12.23pm AEDT, with the materials and energy sectors leading the way.

A strong lead from Wall Street has boosted the ASX.
A strong lead from Wall Street has boosted the ASX. Credit: Bloomberg

Mining giant BHP was 0.6 per cent higher just after midday, a day after warning of more than $10 billion in writedowns. Rio Tinto was up 1 per cent. Lithium miner Pilbara Minerals added 6 per cent.

Gold miners are higher, thanks to a rise in the spot gold price. Northern Star was up 2.2 per cent in early afternoon trade.

Among the big insurers, QBE slumped by 2.5 per cent after warning that premium growth would slow while IAG was down 3.1 per cent after posting a drop in profits.

Overnight, the S&P 500 rose 0.6 per cent and squeaked by its prior all-time high set last week. The Dow Jones gained 0.9 per cent and the Nasdaq composite climbed by 0.3 per cent.

The Australian dollar also rose. It was 0.5 per cent higher at 65.52 US cents at 8.54am AEDT.

TripAdvisor gained 9.2 per cent after reporting stronger results for the latest quarter than analysts expected. Tech giant Cisco Systems also reported better-than-anticipated results, but its stock sank 2.4 per cent after it cut its profit forecast for its full fiscal year.


The mixed set of data on the economy included a report showing sales at US retailers weakened by more in January from December than expected. It was a striking drop in spending by US households, whose strength has helped keep the economy out of a recession, even with high interest rates. The upside for financial markets is that it could also remove some upward pressure on inflation.

A separate report said fewer US workers applied for unemployment benefits last week than expected, the latest signal of a solid job market despite high-profile announcements of layoffs. Other reports on Thursday morning painted a mixed but better-than-feared picture of the manufacturing industry.

Altogether, the economic reports helped send Treasury yields lower in the bond market. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 4.24 per cent from 4.27 per cent late Wednesday.

Treasury yields have been swivelling recently. Stronger-than-expected reports on inflation, the job market and the overall economy have forced traders on Wall Street to delay their forecasts for when the Federal Reserve will begin cutting interest rates.

The Fed has already hiked its main interest rate to the highest level since 2001. The hope is that high rates will squeeze the economy just enough to get inflation down to a comfortable level without causing a recession.

After earlier hoping the Fed may offer some relief and begin cutting rates in March, the thinking on Wall Street is now that won’t happen until May or maybe June. That delay in turn knocked stocks down from their record highs.

Still, the widespread expectation remains for cuts to rates to come this year. It’s just the timing that is changing. In the meantime, the economy continues to look solid, which should help drive growth in profits for companies. That’s helping to keep stocks from falling very much.

CBRE Group jumped 8.5 per cent for one of the largest gains in the S&P 500 after it joined the parade of companies beating analysts’ expectations for profit in the last three months of 2023. Despite difficult conditions for commercial real estate, the company also reported stronger revenue than expected.

One risk that could upset things is the upcoming US election. The Fed does not like to shift from holding rates steady to cutting too close to an election, according to Bank of America strategists led by Mark Cabana. So if the Fed doesn’t move by June, the possibility rises that it may end up holding rates steady until late 2024 or early 2025.

Still, Cabana said where yields ultimately go will depend more on how far the Fed ends up cutting rates than on when it begins.

In stock markets abroad, the Nikkei 225 rose 1.2 per cent after Japan said its economy shrank for a second consecutive quarter. It dropped behind Germany to become the world’s fourth-largest economy, and the weakness raised expectations that Japan’s central bank may keep interest rates very easy.

The United Kingdom also reported its economy shrank for a second straight quarter. The FTSE 100 index in London rose 0.4 per cent, while stocks were up a bit more across Europe.

With AP

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