The Australian share market was lifted higher by banking and energy stocks on a choppy day’s trading as investors awaited the result of US mid-term elections.
The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was up 21.7 points, or 0.37 per cent, at 5896.9 on Wednesday, while the broader All Ordinaries rose 0.39 per cent.
The Australian dollar strengthened to a one-month high as the US went to the polls, buying 72.59 US cents at 1630 AEDT from 72.16 on Tuesday.
The Democratic Party seized the legislative agenda from president Donald Trump by winning the House of Representatives.
Pepperstone head of research Chris Weston said investors will now be hoping for a less America-first approach to economic policy and a conventional stance on trade tariffs.
A split Congress may also create more significant headaches for Trump’s leadership.
“Will the Democrats immediately come out and investigate Trump’s tax? Will they re-open the House investigation into the 2016 election and Russia’s involvement? What happens to the debt ceiling debate?” Mr Weston said.
Falling oil and metal prices resulted in mixed results for local commodity-related stocks but the energy sector reversed early losses and closed higher.
Woodside Petroleum climbed 0.2 per cent but Caltex, Santos, Origin, Oil Search and Beach Energy were all lower.
Mining shares ate away at Tuesday’s gains to drag on the market, with BHP down 0.5 per cent to $33.39 and BlueScope Steel slipped, losing 2.1 per cent to $14.01, while Rio Tinto was flat at $81.25.
Iluka Resources and gold miners Evolution, St Barbara and Northern Star were bright spots, each posting modest gains.
The banks pushed ahead with Westpac climbing nearly one per cent to $27.18 after announcing it would trim bonuses for senior staff, including a 30 per cent bonus cut for chief executive Brian Hartzer.
Commonwealth Bank was 0.6 per cent higher to $69.35 as its first-quarter unaudited cash profit fell 5.7 per cent to $2.5 billion, with higher funding costs and competition for borrowers putting pressure on margins.
NAB and ANZ were up 0.8 and 1.2 per cent respectively.
Health care, infotech and telco stocks were all in the black.
In companies news, shares in Freedom Foods jumped more than five per cent to $5.45 after the health food manufacturer announced it had joined Alibaba Group-owned Theland to create a range of cereals and snacks in China.
And the buzz had been Bega Cheese was interested in buying Capilano Honey but the Victorian dairy company is instead selling its stake to a Chinese-focused consortium.
Capilano shares were up one per cent $20.85 and Bega Cheese was down 0.3 cent to $5.99.
ON THE ASX:
* The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was up 21.7 points, or 0.37 per cent, at 5896.9
* The All Ordinaries was up 23.3 points, or 0.39 per cent, at 5982.0
* At 1630 AEDT, the SPI200 futures index was up 14 points, or 0.24 per cent, at 5864.0 points
CURRENCY SNAPSHOT AT 1630 AEDT:
One Australian dollar buys:
* 72.59 US cents, from 72.16 US cents on Tuesday
* 82.23 Japanese yen, from 81.79
* 63.37 euro cents, from 63.29
* 55.30 British pence, from 55.30
* 107.31 NZ cents, from 108.44
The spot price of gold in Sydney at 1630 AEDT was $US1228.92 per fine ounce, from $US1229.21 on Tuesday.