Australia shares recover, banks and miners push ahead
(Adds detail, comments) SYDNEY, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Australian shares recovered 0.7 percent on Wednesday with banks and miners leading as Wall Street rebounded overnight after the Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke defended the central bank's bond-buying programme. Financials underpinned the market, with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia posting the largest gain, rallying 0.8 percent. Westpac Banking Corp bucked the trend, slipping 0.1 percent. Blue chip miners BHP Billiton Ltd and Rio Tinto were up 0.9 percent and 0.7 percent respectively. A powerful cyclone headed for Australia's Port Hedland, which has brought shipping of half the world's seaborne-traded iron ore to a halt, intensified and is set to make landfall late on Wednesday, threatening to flood inland mine operations and rail links. The S&P/ASX 200 index finished the day 33 points higher at 5,036.6. The benchmark lost 1 percent on Tuesday. "With events in the U.S. overnight providing peace of mind, the Australian index was again able to make forward progress," said Tim Waterer, senior trader at CMC Markets. Mining contractor Macmahon Holdings slumped 2.9 percent after it said shareholders had approved the sale of its construction business to Leighton Holdings Ltd. Leighton Holdings Ltd added 0.4 percent. Defensives helped lead the index higher. Blood products maker CSL Ltd climbed 1 percent. Top telecoms provider Telstra Ltd added 0.4 percent. Retailer Wesfarmers Ltd gained 1 percent while rival Woolworths Ltd AX> edged up 0.2 percent. AGL Energy Ltd soared 4.5 percent after Australia's second-largest electricity and gas company posted a 20 percent rise in first-half profit as it attracted more customers and power prices rose. Insurers recovered as QBE Insurance Australia jumped 3.4 percent and Insurance Australia Group Limited climbed 2.7 percent. Suncorp bucked the trend, dropping 0.8 percent. Shopping centre operator Westfield Group rose 0.5 percent, after it reported 2012 results in line with expectations. U.S. stocks rebounded from their worst decline since November on Tuesday after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke defended the Fed's bond-buying stimulus and sales of new homes hit a 4 1/2-year high. New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index closed the session 0.9 percent or 37.4 points higher to 4,276.3. (Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by Eric Meijer)
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