SYDNEY, AAP – Investors returned to weekly gains on the ASX but trading slowed as investors wait for clues on whether US central bankers wind back economic support.

The market was flat on Friday and investors thumbed their noses at a few earnings reports in the last full week of the 2021 season.

Wesfarmers revealed shareholders could receive $2 billion under a proposed return of capital but still could not please investors.

There were only moderate moves in the biggest share categories prior to US Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell speaking on Saturday as part of the virtual Jackson Hole symposium.

A raft of speakers will discuss economic and monetary policy during the annual two-day event.

However investors are most interested in whether Powell or others might signal that the central bank is ready to ease its bond buying.

This would be the first step in relaxing pandemic support to an improving economy, before measures such as rate hikes.

IG Markets analyst Kyle Rodda did not expect any cues.

“It’s terribly unlikely that Fed members … will provide actual policy guidance at the meeting,” he said.

Mr Rodda said this was not a policy meeting and any announcement might subvert the central bank’s authority.

He said the most Powell could do would be to say the Fed will outline plans at its September meeting.

“That could send markets into a little spin,” Mr Rodda said.

ASX investors will have plenty of time to examine US markets’ response before Monday trade.

On Friday, the benchmark S&P/ASX200 index closed lower by 2.9 points, or 0.04 per cent, to 7488.3.

The All Ordinaries closed down 10.3 points, or 0.13 per cent, to 7760.1.

Shares in industrials were the biggest improvers in the last session of the week, followed by utilities and healthcare.

Consumer discretionaries and technology stocks fared worst.

For the week, shares were up 0.37 per cent.

Wesfarmers was one of the main attractions of Friday and lifted full-year net profit to $2.4 billion.

The Bunnings and Officeworks operator vowed to keep paying wages to workers sidelined by COVID measures until at least December 31.

Managing director Rob Scott said he was concerned about lockdown impact on staff after almost 9,000 Bunnings workers had been in isolation at some stage recently.

Shares were down 2.75 per cent to $62.20.

Former Telstra boss Ziggy Switkowski has been named Crown Resorts’ new chair, replacing Helen Coonan after the punishing Victorian royal commission and NSW gaming inquiry.

The James Packer-backed group said Ms Coonan would on Friday retire from the board and her role as Crown chair.

Shares were up 0.32 per cent to $9.32.

Crown gives its full-year earnings on Monday.

Fortescue Metals will also publish earnings on Monday and investors will be keen to learn the outlook for iron ore prices.

Shares in Fortescue closed unchanged at $20.00.

Among chief rivals, BHP dropped 0.56 per cent to $44.70 while Rio Tinto gained 0.3 per cent to $109.70.

Mayne Pharma shares dropped 11.86 per cent to 26 cents after reporting a bigger full-year loss.

Boss Scott Richards said earnings were down due to a weakened US dollar and COVID-19 challenges.

In banking, the big four were mixed. The Commonwealth was best and gained 0.54 per cent to $101.54. ANZ and Westpac lost less than half a per cent.

Data centre operator NextDC has forecast greater earnings this financial year and is building sites in Melbourne and Sydney for more customers.

Despite sales ticking over, Next DC still made a full-year statutory loss of $20.65 million.

Investors sent shares lower by 5.42 per cent to $12.75.

The Australian dollar was buying 72.52 US cents at 1723 AEST, lower than 72.64 US cents at Thursday’s close.


* The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index closed lower by 2.9 points, or 0.04 per cent, to 7488.3.

* The All Ordinaries closed down 10.3 points, or 0.13 per cent, to 7760.1.

* At 1723 AEST, the SPI200 futures index was higher by one point, or 0.01 per cent, to 7429 points.


One Australian dollar buys:

* 72.52 US cents, from 72.64 cents on Thursday

* 79.76 Japanese yen, from 79.88 yen

* 61.63 Euro cents, from 61.65 cents

* 52.89 British pence, from 52.79 pence

* 104.31 NZ cents, from 104.29 cents.