• SYDNEY, AAP – Shares on the Australian market were on track to close at their highest level since February last year, as miners and energy companies powered the indices.

    The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was higher by 24 points, or 0.33 per cent, to 7088.7 at 1200 AEST.

    The index is poised to top its highest close of 7065.63 since February last year.

    It is also a little more than 100 points from its record high of 7197.2.

    The All Ordinaries on Thursday was better by 28.6 points, or 0.39 per cent, to 7348.6 points.

    Information technology shares were strongest, up 1.3 per cent.

    However the biggest contributions to the indices were from materials and energy shares, which makeup more of the market. They rose by more than one per cent.

    Oil prices rose after OPEC raised slightly its demand forecast for 2021 to 6 million barrels per day.

    ASX shares have picked up after US President Joe Biden addressed the nation and detailed his spending and tax-credit package.

    The plan includes $US1 trillion ($A1.3 trillion) in spending on education and childcare over 10 years and $US800 billion ($A1.0 trillion) in tax credits for middle and low-income families.

    Earlier, Wall Street ended lower after the US Federal Reserve held interest rates and its monthly bond-buying program steady and gave no sign it was ready to reduce its support.

    The central bank said there must be “substantial further progress” towards its inflation and employment goals before stepping back from its monthly bond purchases.

    On the ASX, Woolworths posted a slight increase in group sales for the third quarter, but food sales declined as trading returned to normal after a surge in coronavirus spending last year.

    For the 13 weeks to April 4, food sales in Australia were down 2.1 per cent on a comparable basis to $11.09 billion. New Zealand food sales were down 7.5 per cent on a comparable basis.

    However, overall group sales were up 0.4 per cent to $16.56 billion, helped by strong trading in the Big W and Endeavour Drinks businesses.

    Shares were down 3.33 per cent to $40.03.

    Iron ore miner Fortescue has warned full-year capital costs will increase due to the rising Australian dollar and major projects.

    Fortescue issued its third-quarter production report, which showed 53.6 metric tonnes was mined – a big increase on the 41.9 metric tonnes in the same quarter last year.

    The miner increased its capital costs estimate for the full year from $US3 billion to $US3.4 billion ($A3.9 billion to $A4.4 billion), to $US3.5 billion to $US3.7 billion ($A4.5 billion to $A4.8 billion).

    This was due to the strength of the Aussie dollar, works at its Iron Bridge magnetite project south of Port Hedland and efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

    Shares were down 0.7 per cent to $22.46.

    BHP and Rio Tinto gained more than one per cent to $48.81 and $123.45 respectively.

    Ampol named a new chief financial officer, Coca-Cola Amatil’s Greg Barnes.

    Mr Barnes has worked in the same role at Nine and CSR.

    Shares were higher by 1.73 per cent to $25.77.

    In banking, the big four banks were all lower by less than 0.3 per cent.

    The Australian dollar was buying 78.15 US cents at 1200 AEST, higher from 77.48 US cents at Wednesday’s close.