Australia shares close near 21 month high
(Updates with comment) MELBOURNE, Jan 23 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose 0.2 percent on Wednesday, enough to secure their highest close in almost 21 months as miner BHP Billiton Ltd gained after reporting a rise in quarterly iron ore production. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index rose 9 points to 4,787.8, its best since May 2, 2011. "It was a solid if not spectacular day on the market which is a theme that seems to be re-occurring so far in 2013," said Tim Waterer, senior trader at CMC Markets. BHP rose 1.3 percent to A$37.06 after it reported a 3 percent rise in iron ore production in the December quarter. Rival Rio Tinto Ltd fell 0.7 percent to A$66.45. "BHP results were warmly received by traders, however this was offset by Rio weakness and this seemed to constrain the local bourse from having a solid breakout above 4,800 today," Waterer said. The market barely flinched as data showed Australian consumer price inflation was unexpectedly benign last quarter due to falls in food, electronics and drugs prices. The local dollar eased slightly as the data slightly improved chances of an interest rate cut next month. "A below-consensus CPI has kept the interest-rate cut hopefuls happy, although we would not read into this too much. A lot now falls on domestic data, like employment, to give the (central) bank the ammunition needed," said Chris Weston, strategist at IG Markets. St Barbara Ltd rose 12 percent to A$1.63 after it announced consolidated gold production of 92,691 ounces for the December quarter. Mirabela Nickel Ltd fell 5.7 percent after UBS cut its target price on the miner's Toronto listing to C$0.75, from C$0.90. Linc Energy Ltd rallied 10 percent to A$2.16 after it confirmed shale oil potential in the Arckaringa Basin in South Australia. New Zealand's NZX 50 index rose less than a point to 4,187.7. (Reporting by Miranda Maxwell; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)
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