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The Australian share market closed modestly up as investors digested a flurry of company results.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index closed Thursday up 18.5 points, or 0.29 per cent, to 6,501.8 points, while the broader All Ordinaries was up 20.4 points, or 0.31 per cent, to 6,593 points.

On a macroeconomic front markets were cautious ahead of US Fed chairman Jerome Powell's speech at a meeting of global central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming on Friday.

CSL accounted for more than a quarter of the ASX200's gains, as it rose 1.5 per cent to hit an all-time high of $238.86, having gained 29 per cent this year.

The energy, tech, telecom and health care sectors were the biggest gainers, while industrial, mining and utilities stocks were all down.

Local investors were also digesting a flurry of earnings reports as confession season neared a close.

Qantas rose 1.4 per cent to $5.86 despite a 17 per cent fall in profit after the airline raised its dividend and announced it would conduct an off-market share buy back.

ERM Power shot up 42.4 per cent to $2.45 after Royal Dutch Shell made a $617 million takeover offer for the business-only energy retailer and ASX300 component.

Santos gained 3.5 per cent to $7.10 after it posted an 89 per cent jump in half-year profit, boosted by its acquisition of Quadrant Energy and strong output from its oil fields in South Australia.

Santos' results helped fuel the energy sector, which was the biggest gainer of the day as the price of Brent crude climbed back above $US60, with Beach Energy gaining 4.7 per cent to hit an all-time high of $2.25.

The big banks were all higher, with ANZ rising 0.8 per cent to $26.58, NAB up 0.9 per cent to $27.39, Westpac up 0.8 per cent to $27.75 and Commonwealth up 0.1 per cent to $77.10.

Vocus Group was up 9.6 per cent to $3.20 after the Dodo and iPrimus brand owner met its guidance, which chief executive Kevin Russell said was a key first step in its turnaround plan.

Webjet and Flight Centre moved in opposite directions after both online travel agencies reported full-year earnings.

Webjet fell 8.3 per cent to $12.70 despite boosting profit 45 per cent to $60.3 million, while Flight Centre rose 7.5 per cent to hit an nine-month high of $47.14 despite profit staying flat at $263 million.

South32 fell 4.4 per cent to two-year low of $2.63 after announcing earnings were down 25 per cent and that it would sell its South African energy coal business.

Elsewhere in the mining sector, BHP was down 0.1 per cent to $35.20 while Rio Tinto rose 0.6 per cent to $84.21.

Pro Medicus was the biggest gainer among ASX200 components, up 16.1 per cent to a two-week high of $30.58 after the radiology software company reported that full-year profit after tax had risen 92 per cent.

International Markets

The benchmark S&P 500 ended little changed on Thursday as a fall in U.S. jobless claims offset data showing a contraction in U.S. manufacturing activity while investors awaited Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell's speech on Friday for clues on the central bank's monetary policy.

Data from the U.S. Labor Department showed initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped more than expected last week, suggesting the labor market was holding firm despite a manufacturing slowdown and concerns the economy is on a path toward recession.

However, IHS Markit's Flash Purchasing Managers' Index showed manufacturing activity contracting in August for the first time in nearly a decade. The reading prompted concern among some investors that economic weakness abroad and an escalating trade war with China could drag down the U.S. economy. Following the data release, the yield curve between two-year and 10-year Treasury notes briefly inverted.

For much of the session, the S&P 500 oscillated between gains and losses. Several market strategists said investors were pausing ahead of Fed Chair Powell's speech on Friday at an annual gathering of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which is expected to yield some clues on whether the Fed will cut interest rates further.

The benchmark index dipped lower in intraday trade after Philadelphia Fed President Patrick Harker and Kansas City Fed President Esther George hinted at less dovish stances, saying the U.S. economy does not need more stimulus at this point.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 49.51 points, or 0.19 per cent, to 26,252.24, the S&P 500 lost 1.48 points, or 0.05 per cent, to 2,922.95 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 28.82 points, or 0.36 per cent, to 7,991.39.

Shares of Nordstrom Inc jumped 15.9 per cent, the biggest percentage gain on the S&P 500, after the department store's quarterly profit beat estimates, joining Target Corp and Lowe's Cos Inc in delivering upbeat retail numbers.

The Dow received a boost from Boeing Co shares, which rose 4.2 per cent as Reuters reported the planemaker is looking to increase production of its grounded 737 MAX jets as early as October, suggesting the aircraft's return to service may be on track for the fourth quarter.

Source: Morningstar

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Emergence of a giant in the Australian stockbroking industry

By Noel Ong

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Recommendation Definitions:

SPECULATIVE BUY – Potential 10% or more outperformance, high risk
BUY – Potential 10% or more outperformance
ACCUMULATE - 10% or more out-performance, buy on share price weakness
HOLD – Potential 10% underperformance to 10% over performance
SELL – Potential 10% or more underperformance
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