• SYDNEY, AAP – Shares on the ASX are climbing higher after Westpac delighted investors with its first-half profit.The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was higher by 18.3 points, or 0.26 per cent, to 7044.1 at 1200 AEST on Monday.The All Ordinaries was up by 12.8 points, or 0.17 per cent, to 7303.5 points.

    Financial shares were the biggest improver, up 1.22 per cent, and the most important contributor to keeping the indices higher.

    Westpac was up 4.3 per cent to $26.05 after its cash earnings more than trebled to $3.5 billion.

    The bank has been able to keep some money previously set aside to cover potential loan losses from the pandemic.

    Among its rivals, ANZ was better by 0.62 per cent to $28.92, the Commonwealth rose 0.61 per cent to $89.59 and NAB gained 1.98 per cent to $27.19.

    Other shares doing particularly well were telecommunications, up by 1.11 per cent, and property, up 0.89 per cent.

    The modest start on the ASX comes after Wall Street closed lower on Friday to end April trade.

    The big tech companies weighed on the US markets following upbeat quarterly reports.

    However, US futures on Monday were higher.

    In Australia, strong demand for workers continued in April, seemingly unaffected by the end of the JobKeeper wage subsidy a month earlier.

    The ANZ job advertisement series – a pointer to future employment – showed ads rose for an 11th straight month in April, up by a solid 4.7 per cent.

    It means that job ads are 27.8 per cent higher than pre-pandemic levels.

    On the ASX, retail magnate Solomon Lew’s Premier Investments will pay back $15.6 million in JobKeeper wage subsidies, in a surprising shift on the taxpayer funds.

    The company said it would repay the net benefit collected during its first-half (ended January 30), having used JobKeeper funds to pay staff during coronavirus lockdowns as recently as April.

    Premier said sales had increased after these lockdowns, and fully offset the cost of paying staff wages during the restrictions.

    Premier shares were down 1.71 per cent to $25.84.

    Seven West Media was higher by 3.68 per cent to 49 cents after it said Google and Facebook had agreed to publishing deals.

    Revenue from the multi-year deals, which will allows the two digital giants to use Seven stories, is expected before the end of the financial year.

    Miners were mixed. BHP dropped 1.09 per cent to $47.18, Fortescue climbed 0.15 per cent to $22.62 and Rio Tinto lost 0.48 per cent to $120.56.

    The Australian dollar was buying 77.22 US cents at 1200 AEST, lower from 77.78 US cents at Friday’s close.