Australia shares extend bull run on better-than-expected earnings
(Adds details, comments) SYDNEY, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose 0.3 percent on Wednesday, extending the market's bull run at 4-1/2 year highs, drawing momentum from overseas leads and a better-than-expected earnings season. Financials led the index higher, with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia posting the biggest gains of 1.2 percent. BHP Billiton plumbed 0.9 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. Rival iron ore miner Rio Tinto Ltd lost 1.6 percent. "BHP has beeen the key focal point," said Chris Weston, chief market strategist at IG Markets. "[The Australian market's] hunt for yield doesn't seem to run out of steam with financials and certain staples names doing nicely." The S&P/ASX 200 index finished the day 16.8 points higher at 5,098.7. On Tuesday, the market closed at its highest level since September 3, 2008. The Australian market has risen nearly 10 percent this year on receding euro zone and U.S. fiscal concerns, while a relatively strong earnings season has amplified those gains. "The tide continued to push higher for equity markets across Asia today, with solid leads from Europe and the U.S. enough to keep traders in a buying frame of mind," said Tim Waterer, senior trader at CMC Markets. Fortescue Metals Group dropped 5 percent. The world's no.4 iron ore producer reported a 40 percent fall in first-half profit due to weak iron ore prices but flagged resurgent demand from Chinese steel makers. Retailers also supported the market. Harvey Norman jumped 1.3 percent while David Jones climbed 0.8 percent and rival Myer was up 0.7 percent. Food retailers Woolworths Ltd jumped 2.2 percent while rival Wesfarmers rose 0.9 percent. Leighton Holdings soared 3.6 percent. The company is in negotiations to sell 70 percent of its telco assets. Seven West Media Ltd crashed 7.1 percent after reporting a half year net loss of $109.3 million. New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index finished the session 0.7 percent or 30 points lower at 4,214.2. (Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by Eric Meijer)
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