The S&P/ASX 200 (ASX: XJO) is expected to push higher when the market opens on Thursday. Here’s what’s making headlines across local and global sharemarkets.
ASX to open higher on US policy, Woolworths drinks demerger goes ahead
The ASX 200 struggled to keep up with the positive US lead on Wednesday, falling 0.9% in the session with a number of companies going ex-dividend key to the weakness.
Despite having no impact on a company’s operations, the payment of dividends by a company reduces its value and hence that of the market, making it difficult to post positive returns. Telstra Corporation Ltd (ASX: TLS) for instance fell 3.1% or 10 cents.
Woolworths Group Ltd (ASX: WOW) was the big-name report of the day, with the company reporting a 16% increase in profit to $1.13 billion and delivering a 15% increase in the dividend after another strong half. The strength was broad-based, with most business lines benefitting from the pandemic conditions. Supermarket sales were 11% higher, Endeavour Drinks 19%, and BIG W the strongest at 20%. The strength in these units overcome a 45% drop in earnings in the hotels division, the only weak spot in the business.
After putting the demerger of its hotels and liquor division on hold in 2020, Woolworths management confirmed the businesses had been structurally separated and the deal should proceed in June 2021; shares increased 1.1% on the news. Interestingly, the company’s inventory turnover level fell by 3 days in the half down from 38 days, with strong sales seeing significant product turnover.
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Platinum dividend delivers, Sydney Airport pushing for vaccine rollout
Platinum Asset Management Ltd (ASX: PTM) is staging somewhat of a renaissance, with the company reporting a 14% increase in profit to $90 million despite an 11% fall in average funds under management to $22.2 billion. Fee revenue also fell 12%, but lower costs combined with a $3.7 million boost from performance fees helped support a 12 cent dividend, down just 8% on the prior year.
With value investing showing signs of recovery, investors are hoping for a return to consistent performance fees, like that of Magellan Financial Group Ltd (ASX: MFG) and with every underlying strategy outperforming its benchmark over the last 3 months, the signs are good. The Platinum share price increased 6.4% on the news.
The prospect of a vaccine rollout was the highlight of an otherwise dreary update from Sydney Airport Holdings Pty Ltd (ASX: SYD). There was nothing to hide with full-year traffic falling 74.7% to just 11.2 million people but traffic in the final quarter off 93% from 2019 levels. The result was a 150% fall in profit to a loss of $107.5 million and the dividend remains on hold. Management has focused on cutting costs, which fell 32.3%, running a lean business and holding onto $3.5 billion in liquidity to see them through the gradual recovery in travel. Sydney Airport shares finished 2.5% higher.
Federal Reserve doubles down, markets push higher
All three key US markets pushed higher overnight on the back of additional testimony from the Federal Reserve Governor. Whilst being questioned on the risk of overheating and obvious signs of price increases in sectors like car sales, Jerome Powell confirmed that the economy still had a long way to go, with unemployment well above where it should be. The news sent the Dow Jones up 1.4%, the S&P 500 1.1% and the Nasdaq 1.0%.
Energy stocks remain the biggest beneficiaries of the so-called ‘reflation’ trade, with the likes of Marathon Oil (NYSE: MRO) jumping 8.1%, and both air and cruise liners jumping on the back of the approval of Johnson & Johnson’s (NYSE: JJ) COVID-19 vaccine.
The rotation out of big tech continues, with a decidedly US smaller company focus, emerging market-facing companies ranging from Pinduoduo (NASDAQ: PDD) and MercadoLibre (NASDAQ: MELI) among the hardest hit.
NVIDIA (NASDAQ: NVDA) released its quarterly profit result after market close, with quarterly sales topping US$5 billion for the first time ever. Shares were 2.5% higher during the session even as concerns about a chip shortage spread around the world.
Back home on the ASX, it’s set to be a busy day with big-name reports expected from the likes of a2 Milk Company Ltd (ASX: APT), Afterpay Ltd (ASX: APT), Flight Centre Travel Group Ltd (ASX: FLT) and Qantas Airways Limited (ASX: QAN). Check out Rask Media’s reporting season hub and ASX reporting season calendar for all the latest.