Australia shares close higher on earnings; miners, banks support
(Adds details, comments) SYDNEY, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose 0.6 percent on Monday after earnings reports from companies like Amcor Ltd bolstered hopes that the local economy was in better-than-expected shape. Investors also bought on dips after two blue chips went ex-dividend, pushing daily trading volume to a near two-month high. Commonwealth Bank of Australia and telecommunications giant Telstra Corp Ltd went ex-dividend on Monday, which prompted selling in both stocks and rotation into other shares. CBA fell 1.9 percent and Telstra dropped 1.3 percent, while other major banks advanced, led by a 3.6 percent rise in Westpac Banking Corp. "Even we expected the pull-back today, people are still buying on the dips," said Evan Lucas, a market strategist at IG Markets. "You can also see there is a definitely very strong rotation from those two ex-dividend into the other three banks." Investors were also cheered by domestic corporate earnings, said Damien Boey, an equity strategist at Credit Suisse. "Generally what we are seeing is some surprising strength in some of domestic cyclical companies," Boey said. "Despite all the bearish expectations that there are for the Australian economy, investors want to believe that things are at bottom." The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index climbed 29.5 points to 5,063.4. The benchmark edged down 3 points to 5,033.9 on Friday, but rose 1.3 percent for the week, continuing the market's bull run for a fifth consecutive week. Big miners gained on hopes that top customer China will start buying after the Lunar New Year holidays, with BHP Billiton adding 0.2 percent and Rio Tinto Ltd climbing 1.1 percent. BlueScope Steel Ltd, Australia's largest steelmaker, surged 15.4 percent after it reported improved results for the half year 2013. Packaging group Amcor reported a better-than-expected 5.7 percent rise in first-half underlying profit on Monday, sending its shares 2.6 percent higher. Bendigo and Adelaide Bank Ltd rose 3.3 percent after it reported a 4.4 percent rise in first-half cash earnings and said it would see increasing demand for credit. Iron ore miner Arrium Ltd jumped 6.8 percent after it appointed the head of its mining consumables business, Andrew Roberts, as its new chief executive. Retailers rose, with supermarket chain Woolworth Ltd up 1.3 percent and Wesfarmer Ltd, the owner of Coles supermarkets, closing 1 percent higher. But drilling company Boart Longyear shares dived 8.2 percent, after it reported a 58 percent fall in full-year net profit to $68 million and appointed a new chief executive and chairman. New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index rose 0.4 percent to 4,214.5. (Reporting by Maggie Lu Yueyang; Editing by Chris Gallagher)
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