Aust shares edge up despite rate fears

The Australian share market closed slightly higher, but sentiment remained subdued as investor attention returned to the pace of monetary tightening by central banks globally.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index ended 13.5 points, or 0.19 per cent, higher at 7135.7 on Thursday.

The broader All Ordinaries index closed up 11.6 points, or 0.16 per cent, to 7339.

Local trading was in line with the mixed performance across Asia-Pacific markets after data released overnight showed retail sales in the US rose more than expected last month. It clouded hopes that the US Federal Reserve will ease its aggressive rate hikes, and renewed concerns about the global economic outlook.

Local data on Thursday also pointed to the difficulty the Reserve Bank faces in paring back its rate hikes in coming months, after Australia's jobless rate dropped to a 50-year low of 3.4 per cent in October.

"Today's data suggest that the RBA has more work to do and will need to take policy settings into clearly restrictive territory," RBC Capital Markets' chief economist Su-Lin Ong said.

"Business-as-usual 25bp (basis point) hikes may well be the preferred option, but the RBA will likely need to deliver several more of these to be confident that demand and the labour market will moderate sufficiently for inflation to head back towards its two- to three-per cent target."

Health care, consumer staples and financial stocks were the best performers in the local market, but the gains were nearly offset by weakness in the heavyweight mining and energy sectors.

Each of the big supermarket chains, Woolworths, Coles and Metcash, rose by more than 2 per cent, while dairy producer Bega and A2Milk also climbed by a similar margin.

Financial stocks were also on a high, with three of the "Big Four" banks gaining ground in the session. Westpac was the only major bank to drop 2.7 per cent to $23.20 after the stock turned ex-dividend on Thursday.

Pendal Group shares jumped 10.5 per cent to $4.93 after a favourable court ruling in relation to its takeover by rival Perpetual, but the latter's shares slumped nearly 13 per cent.

Ramsay Healthcare, ResMed and CSL were the best of the health-care stocks, each closing more than 1.0 per cent higher.

Energy stocks turned the other way as concerns mounted over the likelihood of a recession as central banks continue to lift rates to battle inflation.

Whitehaven Coal slid 6.3 per cent, while Woodside Energy and Santos dropped 2.3 per cent and 1 per cent respectively.

Top miners were also under pressure, with BHP, Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals all down more than 1.5 per cent. However, gold stocks bucked the sectoral trend, with Newcrest, Evolution Mining and Northern Star Resources lifting between 0.7 and 2.0 per cent.

In stock-specific news, Webjet shares climbed 10 per cent to $6.19 after the travel operator posted a stronger than expected first-half result and guidance.

Meanwhile, the Australian dollar was slightly weaker as its US counterpart regained some ground. The local currency was buying 67.25 US cents at 5.30pm (AEDT), down from from 67.61 US cents at Wednesday's close.

ON THE ASX:

* The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index ended 13.5 points, or 0.19 per cent, higher at 7135.7 on Thursday

* The broader All Ordinaries index closed up 11.6 points, or 0.16 per cent, at 7339

CURRENCY SNAPSHOT:

One Australian dollar buys:

* 67.25 US cents, from 67.61 US cents at Wednesday's close

* 93.81 Japanese yen, from 94.53 yen

* 64.73 Euro cents, from 65.21 Euro cents

* 56.46 British pence, from 56.95 British pence

* 109.50 NZ cents, from 109.80 NZ cents