Australia shares continue rally, hit fresh 19-mth high

MELBOURNE Wed Jan 2, 2013 7:28pm EST

MELBOURNE Jan 3 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose 0.5 percent to a fresh 19-month high early on Thursday, boosted by miners after copper, gold, oil and U.S. stocks all spiked on relief the U.S. avoided triggering the "fiscal cliff" that could have pushed it into recession.

Top miners hit their highest since February. BHP Billiton added 0.4 percent to A$37.99, while Rio Tinto rose 1.6 percent to A$68.72.

"With volumes and confidence increasing across the globe, the momentum gained at the end of 2012 looks set to continue over the coming days," said Evan Lucas, strategist at IG Markets.

"The U.S. budgetary deal has locked in some short-term certainty and mining stocks, which are very closely linked to the economy's performance, posted very sharp gains," he said.

BHP and Rio both added 2 percent after the deal was reached on Wednesday.

The underlying S&P/ASX 200 index was up 22 points at 4,725.5 by 0014 GMT. It rose 1.2 percent on Wednesday, the biggest one-day percentage gain in five months.

New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index rose 0.5 percent to 4,088.7 as trade resumed after holidays.

U.S. stocks kicked off the new year with their best day in over a year, while copper rose to its highest in more than two months.

STOCKS ON THE MOVE:

* Mirabela Nickel Ltd rallied 10 percent to A$0.575 after Moody's Investors Service lifted its rating to stable from negative, saying the change reflected Mirabela's improved liquidity. The stock had traded below A$0.30 last year.

"While the company is still highly exposed to volatile nickel prices, the reduction in cash costs to below A$6.00 a pound, combined with the A$160 million of cash available on Mirabela's balance sheet as of 30 September 2012, should provide adequate buffer to withstand a short term downturn in prices," Moody's said.

0011 GMT (Reporting by Miranda Maxwell; Editing by)

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