Australian shares ended Thursday at a record peak as China ramped up support for its virus-hit economy, while domestic employment and wage data suggested further monetary easing could be on the cards.
The S&P/ASX 200 index closed 0.3 per cent higher at 7,162.5 but fell off from the session high.
Australia’s unemployment rate jumped by more-than-expected in January from nine-month lows in December, bolstering expectations of further monetary stimulus, and comes after tepid wage growth reported on Wednesday.
“Leading labour market indicators continue to suggest a deterioration in unemployment over coming months,” ANZ research said in a note to clients, while Andrew Hanlan, an economist at Westpac said “wages growth is set to remain weak and inconsistent with an economy on a sustainable expansion path.”
A further lift in the unemployment rate “will be enough to push the RBA over the line for another rate cut, most likely in Q2,” ANZ added.
Also aiding sentiment, China cut the benchmark lending rate, as widely expected, to help companies whose businesses have been badly disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak.
Among stocks, Qantas Airways jumped nearly 6 per cent after it raised its interim dividend and announced a A$150 million share buyback.
The airline also said it would ground 18 planes and freeze recruitment on top of asking its 30,000 staff to use up annual leave to combat the coronavirus epidemic.
Australia and New Zealand Banking Group advanced 1 per cent after reporting its first quarterly growth in home loan volumes in its domestic market since mid-2018.
Corporate earnings results from Lendlease Group Super Retail Group also lent support to their shares.
Santos Ltd fell 1.2 per cent as its full year underlying profit missed estimates. Whitehaven Coal’s first-half profit plunged due to weak prices and production curbs.
New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose for a fourth straight session, up 0.7 per cent to 12,064.86 and marking a fresh record high.
Fletcher Building climbed 3.3 per cent, while Auckland Airport rose about 3 per cent.