Australia shares rally to fresh 4-1/2 yr high on encouraging news
(Adds details, comments) SYDNEY, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose 1.3 percent to another 4-1/2 year closing high after a smooth Italian debt sale and comments from U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke reassured investors. Thursday saw the biggest one-day percentage gain in seven months. On the domestic front, fresh data showed that a closely watched projection for spending in the 12 months to June 2014 came in at A$152.5 billion, compared with the A$168.2 billion expected for 2012/13 but still a major support for the A$1.5 trillion economy. "That should give the Reserve Bank some relief. Although the (spending) peak is in mid-2013, the follow-on from that will be quite mild," said Joshua Williamson, a senior economist at Citi. "So we're not looking at an investment cliff, more a gentle slope." The reporting season for corporate earnings, which wound down this week, has also seen investor sentiment lifted by better results and earnings forecast. Winston Sammut, investment director at Maxim Asset Management in Sydney, said earning reports showed companies were doing "pretty well". He said it remains to be seen whether Australia's recent interest rate cuts will boost them. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index rose 67.5 points to close at 5,104.1, according to the latest data, and ended the month 4.6 percent higher. The benchmark gained 0.7 percent on Wednesday. The Australian market has rallied 9.8 percent this year, supported by receding U.S. and euro zone debt concerns as well as a relatively strong earnings season. New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index closed up 1.0 percent or 43.7 points to 4,320.0. Treasury Wine Estate Ltd, one of the world's largest wine companies, soared 8.2 percent to a 4-1/2 month high of A$5.30 after saying it a significant recovery in the second half. Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac Banking Corp led gains in the banking sector, each climbing about 1.9 percent. Top miner BHP Billiton Ltd added 1.0 percent, and rival Rio Tinto Ltd jumped 1.6 percent. Iron ore miner Sundance Resources Ltd rose 3.5 percent after it confirmed it received $5 million from its Chinese suitor Hanlong Group, which is trying to secure final approval to take over the miner. Oil and gas producers ended higher after oil prices rebounded, with Woodside Petroleum Ltd up 3.6 percent and Origin Energy Ltd 2.3 percent. Retailers continued the recent upside trend, with biggest supermarket chain Woolworths gaining 2.7 percent after reporting a 4.2 percent rise in net profit. Rival Coles-owner Wesfarmers Ltd closed 1.3 percent higher. The country's biggest telecommunications company Telstra slipped 0.4 percent. (Reporting by Maggie Lu Yueyang; Editing by Richard Borsuk)
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