The Australian sharemarket is having its best day in a fortnight, with the ASX 200 Index up 0.9 per cent or 44.8 pts to 5003.8. This is the first time the evasive 5000.0 mark has been breached by the index since April 2010. The local market is now up 7.6 per cent since the start of this calendar year. Global markets ended mostly higher overnight, with both the French and British markets the standouts after rising by close to 1 per cent.
Sharemarkets in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan are all closed today due to public holidays.
A number of companies are releasing profit results, including blood products company, CSL Limited (CSL), share registry, Computershare (CPU) and Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA).
CSL announced a 24 per cent rise in first half profit to US$627 million. Total revenue rose by 6.3 per cent to $2.56 billion, while the interim dividend also improved to US50 cents, which is a 33 per cent rise.
Australia's largest share registry, CPU is up 2.09 per cent or 21.5 cents to $10.28 after announcing a 14 per cent rise in its first half profit (July to December 2012) to $149 million.
OZ Minerals, Worley Parsons, Ansell, Boral, Carsales.com, Domino's Pizza, Noni B and The Reject Shop are also out with their results today.
The four major banks are improving by as much as 2.7 per cent following a solid profit result by Commonwealth Bank (CBA), which has significantly increased its dividend payout to eligible shareholders. Westpac (WBC) is up 2.67 per cent or 74 cents to $28.49; CBA is up 2.45 per cent or $1.60 to $67.12, while both National Bank (NAB) and the ANZ Banking Group (ANZ) are improving by around 1.6 per cent. The four major banks combined make up around 25 per cent of the Australian sharemarket.
The major miners are also on the improve, with BHP Billiton up 0.65 per cent or 24.5 cents to $37.83 while the smaller Rio Tinto (RIO) is 0.74 per cent or 51 cents higher to $69.51. Since mid-2011, BHP has struggled to break through the $38.00 per share mark.
On the economic front today, the latest consumer confidence reading has jumped by 7.7 per cent in February. This makes it the best reading of confidence across Australia since December 2010. The market is still factoring in approximately a 50 per cent chance of a rate cut in March, however due to the largely positive data issued and improvements in global equity markets, the Reserve Bank (RBA) is more likely to remain on the sidelines. The RBA does find itself in a more favourable position than many of its counterparts offshore however. If the global growth story takes a turn for the worse, the RBA has the firepower to cut rates aggressively.
The most comprehensive figures on lending in the economy were also issued today. Total lending was up 4.1 per cent in December following a sharp pullback in November. Lending was largely drive by commercial/business loans, while housing debt remains light. This tends to be quite a volatile reading.
Following the start of daylight savings in October, major markets in the region will be trading between the hours mentioned below until April 2013.
The Hong Kong sharemarket trades in two sessions each day and will now open for trade between 12.30pm (AEDT) and 3pm (AEDT) while the second session is between 4pm (AEDT) and 7pm (AEDT).
Out of Japan, the first session will be between 11am (AEDT) and 1pm (AEDT) while the second session is between 2.30pm (AEDT) and 5pm (AEDT).
The Singapore exchange will be open for trade between 12pm and 3.30pm (AEDT) for the first session and then between 5pm and 8pm (AEDT) for the second.
U.S futures are currently pointing to a slightly stronger start to trade tonight. The U.S market trades between 1.30am (AEDT) and 8am (AEDT).
So far in trade at lunch, 902 million shares have been traded worth just $2.075 billion. 492 shares are up, 358 are lower and 326 are currently unchanged.
The Australian dollar (AUD) buys US103.3 cents, €76.8 cents and £65.9 pence.
The AUD is the world's fifth most traded currency behind the U.S dollar, the Euro, Japanese Yen and British Pound. The AUD accounts for around 7 pct of all foreign exchange trades.
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