Australia shares rally to fresh 4-1/2 yr high on encouraging news

Thu Feb 28, 2013 1:54am EST

(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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