ASX lower as retail bosses fear sales peak

·4-min read

Australia's share market has closed lower, while two retail leaders warned pandemic sales may have peaked ahead of government assistance being wound back and travel restrictions easing.

The S&P/ASX200 benchmark index closed lower by 32.1 points, or 0.46 per cent, to 6885.2 on Wednesday, on a mostly subdued day for global markets.

The All Ordinaries closed lower by 30.5 points, or 0.42 per cent, at 7158.8.

Consumer staples had a 3.47 per cent dive due in part to Coles boss Steven Cain's comments that surging sales may ease.

There were losses of more than two per cent for property and information technology, while healthcare lost 1.78 per cent.

The ASX declines follow those of the S&P 500 and Nasdaq, while Chinese markets were closed for the Lunar New Year holiday.

On a busy earnings day, Mr Cains' comments were echoed by Super Retail Group boss Anthony Heraghty.

Mr Heraghty, who has enjoyed strong sales at BCF and Supercheap Auto, said the winding back of government assistance and improved prospects for travel meant sales would moderate.

Burman Invest chief investment officer Julia Lee said retailers of goods such as cars and camping goods had enjoyed better sales during the pandemic.

She said the questions were when would sales ease, and to what extent?

Meanwhile there was better news in Victoria, where the government decided the five-day coronavirus lockdown will end as scheduled on Wednesday.

Limits on gatherings remain after the outbreak at the Holiday Inn at Melbourne Airport was contained.

In New Zealand, Aucklanders will regain freedoms on Thursday after a three-day lockdown.

On the ASX, Coles lost 5.39 per cent to $17.20 after Mr Cain gave his outlook on pandemic sales having peaked.

The investor rebuke came after first-half earnings before interest and taxes rose 12.1 per cent to $1.02 billion.

Coles declared a fully franked interim dividend of 33 cents per share, up 10 per cent on a year earlier.

At Super Retail Group, there was a first-half profit increase of 201 per cent.

Shareholders will receive an interim payout of 33 cents per share, fully franked. This was better than the previous fully franked interim dividend of 21.5 cents per share.

Shares were higher by 1.99 per cent to $11.81.

After the market closed, Rio Tinto declared a record final dividend of $US3.09 per share, higher than the $US2.31 per share in 2019, and issued a special dividend of 93 US cents a share.

Underlying earnings for the year rose to $US12.45 billion from $US10.37 billion a year earlier, beating analysts' estimates.

Earlier, shares closed higher by 3.59 per cent to $127.47.

BHP had a 3.4 per cent gain to $48.60 and Fortescue had a 3.0 per cent rise to $24.41.

EML Payments rocketed 16.39 per cent to $4.90 after it forecast full-year earnings growth of 60 per cent.

The group's first-half net profit after tax improved by 30 per cent to $13.2 million.

Westpac claimed first-quarter cash earnings were up 54 per cent to $1.97 billion.

Boss Peter King said mortgage applications were increasing.

Westpac closed best of the big four and was higher by 4.58 per cent to $23.54.

On Thursday, market giant CSL will give first-half earnings, as will companies including Crown Resorts, Fortescue Metals, Wesfarmers and Woodside Petroleum.

Jobs figures for January are due, and analysts tipped employment to improve.

The Aussie dollar was buying 77.49 US cents at 1719 AEDT, lower from 77.95 US cents at Tuesday's close.

ON THE ASX

* The S&P/ASX200 benchmark index closed lower by 32.1 points, or 0.46 per cent, to 6885.2 on Wednesday.

* The All Ordinaries closed lower by 30.5 points, or 0.42 per cent, at 7158.8.

* At 1719 AEDT, the SPI200 futures index was higher by two points, or 0.03 per cent, at 6827 points.

CURRENCY SNAPSHOT

One Australian dollar buys:

* 77.49 US cents, from 77.95 cents on Tuesday

* 82.09 Japanese yen, from 82.20 yen

* 64.10 Euro cents, from 64.16 cents

* 55.80 British pence, from 55.90 pence

* 107.66 NZ cents, from 107.44 cents.