Australia shares hit fresh 4-1/2 year highs, CBA, Woolworths set records

Mon Mar 11, 2013 1:35am EDT

(Adds detail, comments)
    SYDNEY, Mar 11 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose 0.5
percent on Monday led by financials as Wall Street set record
highs last week, but weaker metal prices hit mining companies. 
     Blue chip miners BHP Billiton Ltd and Rio Tinto
Ltd dropped 0.8 percent and 2 percent respectively as
metals reacted to data from China showing factory output and
consumer spending were weaker than forecast. 
    Financials were firmer, with National Australia Bank
 jumping 1.7 percent. The Commonwealth Bank of Australia
 rose 0.4 percent to trade at $A70.13, an all time high.
Westpac Banking Corp finished the session flat.
    "The ASX 200 has nudged through last week's high and printed
a fresh high, despite another day of underperformance in the
materials space," said Stan Shamu, market strategist at IG
Markets.
    "It seems China's data was just enough to put some doubt in
investors' minds about commodities and the mining names."
    The S&P/ASX 200 index finished the day 23.5 points
higher at 5,146.9, hitting a fresh 4-1/2 year high. The index
rose 0.3 percent on Friday.
    The benchmark is up 10.7 percent for the year so far as the
Australian share market enjoys a bull run on strong earnings and
investor optimism in the global economy.  
    Gold miners were moderately stronger. Newcrest Mining Ltd
 inched up 0.3 percent while Kingsgate Consolidated Ltd
 surged 9.4 percent. Gold edged up on Monday, off a two
week low hit in the previous session, on better-than-expected
U.S. jobs data, as the Federal Reserve is expected to continue
to prop up the economy through 2013 with monetary stimulus,
giving support to gold. 
    Defensives were strong, Coles-owner Wesfarmers Ltd 
rose 0.5 percent while Woolworths Ltd jumped 1 percent
to record highs. Blood products maker CSL Ltd rallied
0.7 percent. 
    New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index closed the
session 0.3 percent or 12.5 points higher to an all-time high of
4,366.6.

 (Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by Eric Meijer)