Australian shares fall as US debt ceiling talks drag on

·4-min read
Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS

The local share market has closed at an almost two-week low amid economic jitters and as talks on the US debt ceiling drag on.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was down as much as 1.0 per cent in the first hour of trading on Wednesday but managed to claw back more than half of those losses to finish down 35.5 points, or 0.45 per cent, to 7,199.2.

The broader All Ordinaries ended down 34.8 points, or 0.47 per cent, at 7,389.3.

CMC Markets Auckland-based analyst Tina Teng said stalled US debt ceiling talks and a disappointing earnings report from Home Depot had soured sentiment.

Overnight, the US home improvement retailer posted its biggest earnings miss in 20 years and lowered its guidance for 2023, citing weak consumer demand.

In Washington, US President Joe Biden cancelled next week's planned visit to Australia and shortened his G7 trip to Asia as Democrats and Republicans seemed far apart on a deal to raise the US debt ceiling.

Unless a deal is reached, the US could run out of money to pay its bills as soon as June 1.

Domestically, wage data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Wednesday came in mostly as expected, showing pay including bonuses had increased by 0.8 per cent in the March quarter, taking the annual pace of growth to 3.7 per cent.

"The average size of wage changes remains historically high, with the very tight labour market driving strong wage outcomes," wrote Sean Langcake, head of macroeconomic forecasting for Oxford Economics Australia, which is forecasting another rate hike in June.

Seven of the ASX's 11 sectors finished lower, with mining the biggest loser.

It fell 1.0 per cent, following the release a day earlier of weaker-than-expected Chinese industrial output and retail sales growth data for April.

BHP dropped 0.8 per cent to $43.72 and Fortescue and Rio Tinto both dipped 0.3 per cent, to $20.25 and $108.43 respectively.

Incitec Pivot fell 7.8 per cent to a year-and-a-half low of $2.94 after announcing its first-half net profit fell 8.0 per cent to $354m, dragged by weaker fertiliser prices and winter storms in North America and wet weather in the Asia-Pacific reducing demand for explosives.

In the financial sector, the big banks were mixed, with CBA down 0.5 per cent to $97.14 and Westpac and NAB both down 1.0 per cent, to $20.92 and $26.19 respectively.

ANZ rose 0.2 per cent to $23.58

Temple & Webster rocketed 19.1 per cent to a three-month high of $4.50 after the furniture retailer said sales were up, it was spending $30 million on share buybacks and it had found success using the ChatGPT chatbot to answer customer pre-sale enquiries.

"We have been excited about the potential game-changing technology of AI for many years now," CEO Mark Coulter said.

In health care, Rhythm Biosciences shares almost doubled to a two-month high of 68.5c after its blood test for detecting bowel cancer was approved for use in the United Kingdom.

Rhythm hopes its ColoSTAT test will eventually replace the faecal tests used for screening in most countries, including Australia.

Elsewhere in the sector, Immutep climbed 14.9 per cent to a two-month high of 27c after its immunotherapy drug candidate appeared to extend the survival rates of non-small cell lung cancer patients in a 114-patient trial.

The Australian dollar was buying 66.49 US cents, from 66.68 US cents at Tuesday's ASX close.

Looking forward, the Australian Bureau of Statistics will release April jobs data on Thursday that will be closely watched as a potentially important indicator of whether the RBA continues to raise rates.


* The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index finished on Wednesday down 35.5 points, or 0.49 per cent, to 7,199.2.

* The broader All Ordinaries dropped 34.8 points, or 0.47 per cent, to 7,389.3.


One Australian dollar buys:

* 66.49 US cents, from 66.68 US cents at Tuesday's ASX close

* 90.98 Japanese yen, from 90.79 Japanese yen

* 61.25 Euro cents, from 61.41 Euro cents

* 53.37 British pence, from 53.46 British pence

* 106.45 NZ cents, from 106.98 NZ cents