Shares extended this week's push through the 6000 level on Thursday, with miners and banks pulling together to spearhead the advance.
The S&P/ASX 200 index rose another 33 points, or 0.6 per cent, to trade at 6049. The All Ordinaries index rose 33 points, or 0.5 per cent, to 6122.
The Australian dollar traded at US76.82 cents after some surprisingly strong data on Chinese producer prices and as consumer prices picked up pace. The data was another sign the world's second largest economy remains robust.
"All looks good in global equity markets," said Westpac strategists. "Markets are historically calm. Policymakers are hardly likely to complain but still must be wondering what sort of correction we will see - whenever that may be."
While the Australian market isn't at a record high, it's notched some solid gains of 6.8 per cent this year, including a 1.5 per cent gain so far this week.
Since the benchmark top 200 index pushed through 6000 on Tuesday, it's been a one-way street for the index, with Thursday's advance coming as Westpac climbed 1.3 per cent, CBA rose 0.8 per cent and ANZ advanced 0.8 per cent. NAB declined 3.4 per cent, however, as it traded without the rights to its latest dividend payout. Miners BHP and Rio Tinto each lifted 0.5 per cent.
Santos was a notable laggard, trading down 2.7 per cent after telling shareholders it will take the controversial $3.6 billion Narrabri coal seam gas project in NSW back into its core portfolio.
Domino's Pizza Enterprises dropped 3.5 per cent, a day after sticking to its forecast for 20 per cent profit growth this year even though sales growth in Australia slowed in recent months after record gains a year ago.
Alumina lost 3.7 per cent and Platinum Asset Management extended declines made in the previous session with a 2.8 per cent slide.
Goodman Group, which manages a $34 billion global portfolio of industrial property, jumped 2.6 per cent after telling shareholders it will boost its earnings by 6 per cent this year as it rides the e-commerce wave.
Flight Centre rose 2 per cent after delivering a bullish outlook for its 2018 financial year earnings, tipping a strong first half that could see profit rise by more than 15 per cent in the full year.
Xero lost 1.2 per cent. Founder and CEO Rod Drury said he expects the business to become the newest member of the ASX200 index once it delists from the New Zealand Stock Exchange.
- With wires
James Hardie booked a 14 per cent drop in first half-net profit as ongoing manufacturing inefficiencies and higher productions costs weighed on margins. But analysts and investors were cheered by signs of improvement in the building materials firm's underlying performance, helping push the stock 7.6 per cent higher to $20.39 on the day. Citi analysts said the "overall result looks solid", pointing to better than expected pricing growth, as well as a lift in margins in the US business. The market also liked CEO Louis Gries's comments around the recently announced $US549 million acquisition of German-based Fermacell, Europe's biggest maker of fibre gypsum boards. The purchase gave James Hardie the regional "capability and regional influence that will be important to launch a much higher-growth fibre cement strategy in Europe," Mr Gries said.
What moved the market
New Zealand's central bank signalled it may need to raise interest rates slightly earlier than previously expected as capacity pressures and a weaker currency stoke inflation. The Kiwi dollar lifted on the comments, even as Reserve Bank of New Zealand governor Grant Spencer held rates steady at 1.75 per cent. Mr Spencer told a media conference that the new Labour government's foreign ownership ban alongside its plans to extend capital gains taxes would help the ongoing slow-down in previously red-hot house prices.
China's producer prices grew at a surprisingly strong rate of 6.9 per cent over the year to October, suggesting the world's second-largest economy remains robust despite expected curbs on factory output as the government pursues a punishing war on smog. Annual consumer inflation lifted to 1.9 per cent from 1.6 per cent in September, due to higher food prices and low base effects. "Today's inflation data point to strong price pressures," Capital Economics China economist Julian Evans-Pritchard said. "China's reflation story remains alive, for now."
Shares in the hearing implant manufacturer were the victims of their own success on Thursday after Citi analysts downgraded the stock to "sell" on valuation grounds, calling it "priced for perfection". The firm's valuation is "sky high", the broker told its clients, noting that Cochlear is trading at 40 times 12-month forward earnings per share. Even factoring in Citi's "above consensus" call for EPS growth of 16 per cent over the next two financial years, and 12 per cent the year after that, the stock "still looks slightly expensive". The firm declined 0.7 per cent.
The mortgage lending picture has "turned gloomy", JP Morgan economist Henry St John said, following the release of housing finance data that came in well below expectations. Investor loans fell 6.2 per cent in September against the previous month, and loans to owner occupiers declined 2 per cent. "Overall, the update brings the finance approval data more into line with the clear slowing signal already evident from [housing market] turnover, auction markets and prices," Westpac economist Matthew Hassan said. "The weakness in owner occupier loan approvals bears closer watching," he said.