The Australian share market closed more than one per cent higher heading into the longer than usual Easter break, with gold and energy stocks outperforming the index after commodity prices climbed overnight.
On Thursday, the benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was 54.8 points, or 1.13 per cent, higher at 4913.8 points, while the broader All Ordinaries index was 55.5 points, or 1.12 per cent, up 4995.7. On the ASX 24, the June share price index futures contract was up 59 points at 4925 points, with 28,383 contracts traded.
The Australian dollar continued to climb to new post-float heights, reaching $US1.0749 a level not seen since the 1970s before the local currency was floated. US stocks soared, with the Dow closing near three year highs on strong earnings reports that beat Wall Street expectations, particularly in the technology sector.
The best performing stock on the S&P/ASX 100 index was gold miner PanAust, up four cents, or 5.23 per cent, at 80.5 cents. The spot gold price in Sydney was $1,506.50 per fine ounce, up $4.00 from Wednesday's close of $1,502.50. Australia's largest gold miner, Newcrest Mining, added 84 cents, or 2.01 per cent, to $42.66.
The energy sector was also strong after crude oil rose 2.1 per cent to $US111.45 per barrel overnight. Santos was up 34 cents at $15.97 and Woodside lifted $1.26, or 2.7 per cent, to $47.86. BHP Billiton shares gained nine cents to $47.32, while Rio Tinto shares added 98 cents, or 1.18 per cent, to $84.10. Origin Energy was placed in a trading halt pending an announcement about its Australian Pacific liquified natural gas joint venture at Gladstone, in Queensland, with US energy giant ConocoPhillips.
Origin shares last traded at $16.23. Caltex Australia lost ground after saying it remains committed to its local refining business, despite collapsing refiner margins and a slump in first quarter profit. Caltex blamed rapid appreciation of oil prices due to the conflict in Libya and recent events in Japan for the profit dip and says it expects refiner margins to remain volatile in the near term. Caltex shares fell 32 cents to $13.93.
Among major banks Commonwealth was up 49 cents at $53.16, ANZ was up 27 cents at $24.11, National Australia Bank was up 31 cents at $26.79 and Westpac gained 51 cents to $25.48. Retailer Harvey Norman Holdings Ltd said on Thursday sales for the third quarter of the 2011 financial year rose 1.6 per cent, but like for like sales were down 4.6 per cent. That sent Harvey Norman shares down 1.05 per cent, or three cents, at $2.82. The preliminary market turnover was 2.55 billion shares changing hands for $4.53 billion, with 732 stocks up, 409
down and 380 unchanged.
The Australian dollar's rally continued unabated Thursday as a fresh wave of investors jumped aboard the surge amid predictions the currency will climb to US$1.10 in the short term. Data showing firms are feeling the heat of rising fuel, food and electricity costs in the first quarter gave the currency some added drive, but high commodity prices, and a soft U.S. dollar were the main spurs. The Australian dollar was changing hands at $1.0764, up from $1.0580 late Wednesday. It touched a fresh 29 year high of $1.0771. Against the yen, it traded at 88.28, up from 87.72.