Australia shares rise, banks and defensives rally

Wed Jan 16, 2013 12:32am EST

(Adds details, comments)
    SYDNEY, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Australian shares rallied 0.5
percent on Wednesday led by banks and defensives after Wall St
posted modest gains on stronger-than-expected retail data.
    The financials sector helped lead the index higher, with
Australia's top lender, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia
 adding 0.9 percent.
    Defensives finished the day stronger; blood products maker
CSL Ltd surged 3.5 percent, Australia's top
telecommunications provider Telstra jumped 1.1 percent
and food retailer Wesfarmers Ltd rose 0.5 percent.
    "Investors continue to pile back into defensive-yield
plays," said Evan Lucas, market strategist at IG Markets.
    "Health care, telecommunications and financial sectors are
all outperforming the market."
    The S&P/ASX 200 index finished the day 21.8 points
higher to 4,738.4. The index ended 0.1 percent lower at 4,716.6
on Tuesday.
    Miners finished the session softer. Iron ore miners BHP
Billiton Ltd fell 0.8 percent while rival Rio Tinto Ltd
lost 0.5 percent. 
    "Today was perhaps best described as a tentative press
forward ahead of key economic releases due in the next two
days," said Tim Waterer, senior trader at CMC Markets.
    "It would appear that a number of traders are waiting to see
how Friday's Chinese GDP data pans out before buying with more
conviction and this is particularly true of the mining sector."
    Qantas Airways rose 0.7 percent after Australia's
top airline said its order for 15 Boeing Dreamliner jets remains
on track, despite a string of recent problems with the aircraft.
 
    Australian building materials maker Boral Ltd said
on Wednesday it will cut 700 jobs across the country, aiming to
reduce costs in a weak housing construction markets. Boral
shares jumped 10 percent to an 18-month high. 
    A measure of Australian consumer confidence inched up 0.6
percent in January as people fretted about their finances even
as they grew more optimistic on the economy and looked to spend
more on major items. 
    Iron ore slipped further after hitting 15-month highs last
week as buying interest from top importer China eased, although
traders say a recovery in steel demand and more restocking by
mills ahead of the Lunar New year should keep prices supported.
 
    New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index finished the
session flat, falling 1.7 points to 4,169.2.
    

 (Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)