Australia shares rise to highest close since Sept 2008, CBA leads
(Adds details, comments) SYDNEY, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Australian shares climbed 0.9 percent on Wednesday, closing above the 5,000-mark for the first time since the Lehman Brothers collapse in 2008, underpinned by strong corporate earnings. Analysts said the market will continue its bull-run if corporate earnings remain solid. The Commonwealth Bank of Australia was the highlight of the session, soaring 2.4 percent to an all-time high of A$67.11 after posting record first half earnings of A$3.7 billion. "The buzz stemming from the CBA numbers seemed to proliferate into the broader market with investors buoyed by the profit achievements of one of our banking pillars," said Tim Waterer, senior trader at CMC Markets. The S&P/ASX 200 index finished the day 44.7 points higher at 5,003.7, after closing flat on Tuesday in thin trade. The market has not broken above the 5,000 barrier in almost three years, and the last time it closed above this level was on Sept. 22, 2008, shortly after the collapse of Lehman Brothers. The benchmark index has risen some 7.0 percent so far this year, helped by receding fears about the euro zone debt crisis and an eleventh hour resolution to a potentially destabilising fiscal mess in the U.S. The strong domestic earnings have amplified the gains. "We will likely need to see a few follow-up acts from the other blue chips for the ASX200 to have an extended stay above the 5000 level," Waterer said. Global iron ore miners BHP Billiton Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd advanced 0.9 percent and 2.1 percent respectively. "The key for today will be whether we can hold on to current levels," said Stan Shamu, market strategist at IG Markets. "With Rio Tinto reporting full-year profits tomorrow, the cyclical side of the market will test this threshold (5000 level), and with analysts expecting record productions in iron ore, copper and coal, the result is already under pressure and will add pressure to current gains." Insurers finished the day firmer, led by QBE Insurance surging 4 percent while Suncorp added 0.2 percent. Energy stocks were also stronger. Santos edged up 0.1 percent while Woodside Petroleum rallied 0.7 percent. Defensives were mixed. Australia's top telecommunications provider Telstra Ltd was up 0.2 percent. Blood products maker CSL Ltd finished flat after posting a half-year profit of A$627 million, up 24 percent. New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index finished the session 0.1 percent, or 3.3 points, higher at 4,221.4. Technology company Rakon Ltd plunged 31.6 percent after downgrading its guidance forecast. Internet access services company Mykris Ltd tumbled 13.3 percent. (Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)
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