Market sidetracks as investors look to events in Middle East

The sharemarket has finished higher, but activity remained overshadowed by concerns about Syria.

The sharemarket has finished higher, but activity remained overshadowed by concerns about Syria.

At the close on Thursday, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index was up 5.2 points at 5092.4, while the broader All Ordinaries edged up 5.1 points to 5083.1.

"A little bit of a comeback coming through," said CommSec market analyst Steven Daghlian.

The big miners helped lift activity following higher oil prices, with BHP Billiton gaining 55¢ to $35.35 and Rio Tinto up 9¢ to $58.25. Iron ore miner Fortescue was 9¢ higher at $4.31.

Energy and mining were two of the hardest-hit sectors a day earlier but had turned things around and heartened investors, Mr Daghlian said. "They've come back and certainly lifted things. That's contributing to the improvements."

But performances were mixed for the big four banks. ANZ was 17¢ lower at $29.47, Commonwealth Bank shed 20¢ to $72.05, while NAB gained 4¢ to $32.36, and Westpac was up 11¢ at $40.08.

Meanwhile, shopping centre owner Westfield was 8¢ lower at $11.05 after a weaker dollar hit its profit.

After Qantas announced it had returned to profit, its shares were 17¢, or 13.8 per cent, higher at $1.40.

But despite some positive news for the market the looming conflict in Syria remained a concern. "It's at the forefront of the minds of investors," Mr Daghlian said.

"Despite Syria being quite a small player in the grand scheme of things when it comes to oil production there are concerns that any sort of conflict there could potentially spread to neighbouring nations."

Gold closed at $US1409.90 an ounce, down $US16.83.

Meanwhile, the dollar also edged higher, to US89.58¢, up from US89.14¢ on Wednesday.

The currency was buoyed by Australian business investment data showing a rise of 4 per cent in the June quarter, beating economist expectations of a 0.8 per cent rise.

Forex.com analyst Chris Tedder said markets were consolidating after events in Syria pushed investors toward safe-haven investments earlier in the weak.

"There were no new developments overnight so we have seen a retracement across the board," he said. "We saw oil come back down, we saw gold come back down, we saw the risk currencies appreciate a bit so it was just a bit of retracement across the board."