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Australian shares inched higher on Thursday, helped by gains in heavyweight financials, while Qantas soared after the airline forecast a return to profit in the first half of 2023 fiscal year for the first time since the pandemic began.

The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.4% to 6,671.6, as of 0016 GMT, with global investors looking for clues on the pace of future US interest rate hikes from inflation data due later in the day.

The benchmark index closed 0.04% higher on Wednesday.

Shares of Qantas Airways Ltd surged up to 13%, on track for their best session since November 2020, after the company said it expected to swing to a first-half underlying profit of between A$1.2 billion and A$1.3 billion, up from a similar-sized loss the prior year.

Financials jumped 2.4% to hit their highest in a month, with the country’s so-called “big four” banks rising between 2.6% and 4.1%.

Meanwhile, medical insurance firm NIB Holdings was set for its worst session since August 2021, shedding 10.4% after it completed a A$135 million placement at a discount. Mining stocks fell 0.9% after iron ore prices slumped for the third day in a row on Wednesday.

Australian shares close flat as banks offset miners’ drag

Mining giants BHP group and Rio Tinto declined 1.2% and 0.4%, respectively. Lithium stocks also weakened, with Pilbara Minerals and Lake Resources falling 6% and 3%, respectively. Healthcare and real estate stocks were both down nearly 1.3%.

Major Wall Street indexes closed a choppy session slightly lower on Wednesday, after minutes from the last US Federal Reserve meeting showed policymakers agreed they needed to maintain a more restrictive policy stance. New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index slipped 0.3% to 10,839.65 on Thursday.

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