MELBOURNE: Banks helped drive a broad recovery in Australian shares Thursday, pulling the market back from a three-week low. Snapping a run lower over the last three sessions, the S&P/ASX 200 ended up 17.4 points, or 0.3%, at 5821.4. The four largest banks, among the largest stocks in the ASX 200, collectively added almost 10 points to the index as the lenders recovered from falls in recent days amid heightened geopolitical concerns that weighed on the broader market. Still, mining and energy companies continued to weaken after oil fell to its lowest in almost three weeks overnight and following steady declines in iron ore the past week, and in the wake of quarterly trading updates from several resources companies.
Australia & New Zealand picked up 1.2%, National Australia Bank rose 0.9%, Commonwealth Bank of Australia added 0.6% and Westpac gained 0.2%. Telstra and TPG Telecom were up for a second day, regaining some of the heavy selling that met the telecommunications companies after TPG last week announced plans to launch a new wireless network in Australia that analysts expect will be priced aggressively to attract customers. Each stock advanced by 2.9%. Among the big miners, BHP Billiton lost 1.1% and is now 2.7% lower so far this week, Fortescue Metals Group declined by 1.2% and Oz Minerals sank 3%.
Rio Tinto fared somewhat better, falling 0.4% after it lowered its mined copper target for the year but held steady on production guidance for other important commodities, including iron ore and aluminum. Mineral sands miner Iluka jumped 11% amid signs of improved demand in the market and after its acquisition of Sierra Rutile drove sharp increases in first-quarter revenue and production. In the energy sector, Woodside Petroleum was 1.2% lower after it reported weak sales revenue and volumes after production was dampened back by tropical storms and heavy rains in the first three months of the year. Santos was 2.5% weaker after its quarterly numbers showed a further reduction in debt but lower production following recent asset sales.