Australian shares finish lower for third straight day

The Australian share market has suffered its third straight day of losses after the release of hawkish Federal Reserve minutes drove US shares down overnight.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 ended Thursday 29.1 points lower, or 0.4 per cent, at 7,285.4.

The broader All Ordinaries dropped 24.5 points, or 0.33 per cent, to 7,492.5.

The losses followed a negative lead from Wall Street, where the S&P500 index fell 0.2 per cent to 3,991.1, its lowest level in five weeks.

Traders were responding to revelations the US central bank was determined to keep hiking interest rates, with several Fed policymakers stating their preference for 50 basis point rate rises, rather than the 25 basis point increase they went with.

Markets were stuck in a downward trend as investors backed away from risk, State Street Global Advisors SPDR ETF equity strategist Julia Lee said.

"Rising geopolitical tensions between the US and China, the ongoing war in Ukraine, rising Treasury yields, and weaker-than-expected profit forecasts from major companies all weighed on overnight markets," she said.

Sectors finished mixed, with five up and six down. Utilities were the best performers for the second day in a row, up 1.2 per cent after climbing 4.8 per cent the day before.

Gas pipeline owner APA rose 1.4 per cent to $10.80 after reporting a 2.5 per cent jump in profit for the half.

Meanwhile, materials were the day's biggest losers as BHP weighed down the sector.

Australia's largest company slipped 3.4 per cent to $46.69, while the other big miners also fell.

Fortescue dropped 0.3 per cent to $22.83 and Rio Tinto fell 1.7 per cent to $123.40.

The heavyweight financial sector was down 0.2 per cent, with Australia's biggest bank, CBA, up 0.7 per cent to $99.90.

ANZ, Westpac and NAB were all down between 0.7 and 1.0 per cent.

The market was inundated by a slew of company reports as the sun begins to set on earnings season.

Several companies recorded large jumps in profits but declines in share price, a reminder that exceeding market expectations is more important than hitting records, Ms Lee said.

Even more important than beating expectations was the forward-looking statements giving investors clues as to where the business was headed, she said.

Medibank finished up 6.5 per cent to $3.28 after the health insurer announced its half-year net profit after tax grew 5.9 per cent to $233.3m.

"We are a resilient business with great people, a unique offering in health, and a track record of responding to whatever challenge is in front of us," said CEO David Koczkar, mentioning COVID-19, inflation, cost-of-living pressures and the "cybercrime event" that hit the insurer last year.

Qantas plummeted 6.8 per cent to a six-week low of $6.03 despite the airline returning to profitability for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic started three years ago.

"When we restructured the business at the start of COVID, it was to make sure we could bounce back quickly when travel returned," CEO Alan Joyce said on Thursday.

Eagers Automotive added 9.0 per cent to $13 after the automotive dealership chain hiked its dividend and declared it had a "very strong foundation" for the new year.

Ramsay Health Care announced a 22.3 per cent surge in net profit to $194m, causing their share price to jump 3.0 per cent to $67.91.

Bega Cheese led the losers, down 7.8 per cent to $3.32, after the Vegemite owner booked a 74 per cent profit decrease to $7.3 million.

The market was likewise unimpressed with Nine Entertainment and Zip Co's earnings reports, down 2.9 and 6.2 per cent respectively.

Shares in Star Entertainment went into a trading halt as the casino operator rolled the dice on an $800m equity raising.

The company announced it would raise the funds at $1.20 per share, a 21.1 per cent discount to its last trading price, indicating big losses are on the cards when trading resumes.

The Australian dollar was down against its US counterpart, buying 68.29 US cents, from 68.39 at Wednesday's ASX close.


* The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index finished Thursday down 29.1 points lower, or 0.4 per cent, at 7,285.4.

* The broader All Ordinaries dropped 24.5 points, or 0.33 per cent, to 7,492.5.


One Australian dollar buys:

* 68.29 US cents, from 68.39 US cents at Wednesday's ASX close

* 91.98 Japanese yen, from 92.19 Japanese yen

* 64.23 Euro cents, from 64.14 Euro cents

* 56.58 British pence, from 56.47 pence

* 109.31 NZ cents, from 109.81 NZ cents.