The highest level on business

The S&P/ASX 200 Index closed at the highest level since August 2015 in its first trading session since Christmas on fresh interest in the mining giants.

Low volumes typical of the post-holiday period did not hold back a strong open to trading, boosting the ASX higher for the fifth gain in four sessions.

Taking its lead from Wall Street where the Dow Jones again tested the historic 20,000 point mark, a bump in oil and iron ore saw resources stocks lead the local market higher. The benchmark consolidated early gains to close up 57.1 points or 1 per cent to 5,685 points.

The price of iron ore, Australia’s largest export, added 1.6 per cent to $US79.42 a tonne lifting BHP Billiton, up 3.3 per cent to $25.44, and Rio Tinto, up 2.4 per cent to $60.17. Fortescue Metals advanced 3.5 per cent to $5.97. South 32 jumped 3 per cent to $2.81.

Banks were flat with Commonwealth Bank posting the strongest gain of 1 per cent to $83.31.

The price of brent crude oil fell 0.3 per cent to $US55.94 a barrel on Wednesday ahead of production cuts linked to the OPEC deal.

Woolworths will sell its petrol station portfolio to BP in a $1.8 billion deal that will help the retail giant fund its ongoing fight to regain market share in the grocery sector. Shares in Woolworths were 1.9 per cent higher to $24.31. The deal ends months of speculation around the future of Woolworths’ service station business. “The sale proceeds will be used to strengthen the Woolworths balance sheet and reinvest in its core businesses,” the retailer said. Woolworths committed to retaining its fuel discount for shoppers for a further 10 years.

Caltex Australia, which is a supplier of 3.5 billion litres of fuel a year to the Woolworths service stations, fell 2 per cent to $29.99. Caltex was an underbidder in the auction process. “Whilst we are naturally disappointed that the successful fuel alliance will come to an end, it is important that we exercise financial discipline in pursuing growth,” Caltex boss Julian Segal said.

Rival Wesfarmer, owner of Coles, added 1 per cent to $42.53.

Shares in retailer Myer slumped 1.4 per cent to $1.37; the company was served with legal proceedings over its Chadstone store lease last week.

The Australian dollar reversed some of its losses over the past few days and was up 0.3 per cent against the US dollar fetching US72.05¢. Most commodity currencies have fallen against the dollar this past week. The Australian dollar is the sixth worst performing major currency over five days.