Australian shares up; BHP's profit drops
SYDNEY, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose 0.3 percent early on Wednesday, extending a rally that has taken them to 4-1/2 year highs, with global miner BHP Billiton Ltd lagging slightly after its half-year profit dropped sharply and it appointed a new CEO. BHP inched up 0.1 percent after reporting a 43 percent drop in half-year profits, its worst half-year slide in more than a decade but in line with market expectations. The company said CEO Marius Kloppers will step down in May and be replaced by Andrew Mackenzie. In contrast, major mining rival Rio Tinto Ltd dropped 0.7 percent. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index added 14.2 points to 5,096.1 by 2317 GMT. Better-than-expected corporate earnings have added momentum to a sustained rally, with the market up more than 17 percent since mid-November. New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index lost 0.8 percent, or 33.2 points to 4,211 in early trade. (Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by John Mair)
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