Shares recover as Syrian war cry fades

As war cries over Syria's use of chemical weapons quietened, Australian shares found some relief to finish the week in the black.

As war cries over Syria's use of chemical weapons quietened, Australian shares found some relief to finish the week in the black.

On the last day of trade for the month, gains were posted across the board. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index rose 42.59 points, or 0.8 per cent, to 5135, while the broader All Ordinaries advanced 42.1 points, or 0.8 per cent, to 5125.3.

It had been quite a week. The threat of a US-led missile strike seemed imminent on Wednesday, but lost steam after it failed to gather international support, with the British Parliament howling down another military intervention in the Middle East.

The reluctance of the US's allies to join what seemed a looming war steadied the ASX's pulse, with the leading index recording a rise of 0.2 per cent for the week.

But Australian equities manager at Platypus Asset Management, Donald Williams, said he expected subdued or choppy trade until the US decided how to handle Syria.

"As soon as something happens, the markets will probably rally," Mr Williams said.

Resource stocks - which have been battered for most of the month - weighed heavily on the market, with the materials sector sliding 0.7 per cent for the week.

Rio Tinto fell 2.7 per cent to $58.30, while BHP Billiton bucked the trend, rising 0.3 per cent to $35.75. Much of the volatility around the big miners has stemmed from uncertainty about growth in China and a sharp fall in metals prices, which began in mid-June.

Although the price of iron ore has been difficult to predict, it was the most resilient of the commodities. The benchmark iron ore price stretched its gains to a third month, finishing at $US138.30 a tonne at Friday's close.

Analysts attributed the increase to strong Chinese appetite, although the rising supply may start to pressure the commodity, with the big miners, including BHP, Rio and Fortescue, increasing volumes.

Health stocks led the market for the month, with the sub-index rising 66.3 per cent. Ramsay Health Care was the sector's biggest performer this week, advancing 11 per cent to $37.35 after it ended a bitter dispute with Medicare by signing a record three-year contract with the insurer on Thursday.

Consumer staples were also strong. Woolworths posted a 6.3 per cent rise for the week to $35.67 after it announced its underlying net profit climbed 8 per cent last financial year, and its chief executive said he expected double-digit growth in the coming year.

The big banks were mixed. Commonwealth rose 1.1 per cent to $72.84¢, ANZ finished the week slightly higher, up 0.2 per cent at $29.69. NAB was flat, losing 1¢, or 0.03 per cent, for the week, while Westpac lost 0.6 per cent to $31.39.

Oil fell by more than 1 per cent on Friday as concerns about an attack on Syria, and the potential for unrest to spread to its oil rich neighbours, eased. West Texas Crude settled at $US108.80 a barrel.

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