Australia shares rise, hover at 3-week highs on earnings support

Tue Feb 11, 2014 7:36pm EST

(Adds analysis, quotes, stocks on the move)

SYDNEY Feb 12 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose 0.4 percent on Wednesday to near 3-week highs as Wall Street picked up overnight and solid earnings from a handful of stocks helped buoy the market, though a fall in index heavyweight CSL undercut some gains.

The broader index was supported by bluechip mining and financial stocks. BHP Billiton Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd gained 1.2 percent and 1.4 percent respectively.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia was flat after touching 1-month highs earlier in the session. CBA reported a record interim profit as a reduction in bad debts and growth in its loan book overcame narrowing margins.

"There are no ominous signs of impeding danger in the result," said Morningstar analyst David Ellis in a note.

"Just another strong and consistent performance building on a long and enviable track record of steadily increasing profits and dividends."

Australia and New Zealand Banking Group climbed 1.2 percent while Westpac Banking Corp rose 0.5 percent.

Vaccine maker and biotechnology company CSL Ltd lost 3.5 percent as it lifted first-half profit by 3.4 percent, but its results were dented by the settlement of a U.S. antitrust class action.

The S&P/ASX 200 index added 26 points to 5,280.5 by 0024 GMT, its fifth consecutive session of gains.

The benchmark has had a lacklustre start to the year, falling some 1.4 percent so far in 2014 as investors held back from equities on worries of slowing growth in China and stimulus tapering in the U.S..

Wall Street rose for a fourth straight session overnight as Congress agreed to advance legislation extending U.S. borrowing authority and the Federal Reserve's new chief held off from making any changes to its schedule for trimming stimulus.

Oz Minerals surged 11.6 percent to near 4-month highs of A$3.79 after the gold and copper miner flagged higher production in 2014. The miner however, also reported a full-year loss after tax of A$294.4 million.

"It sounds like they are throwing out everything with this result, so new MD, new CEO coming and starting again," said IG's Evan Lucas, a market strategist based in Melbourne.

Elsewhere, Goodman Fielder tumbled 7.4 percent to touch two-month lows, after the food company reported a first half loss of A$65 million.

Building materials maker Boral Ltd jumped 9.2 percent to its highest in almost three years after it reported a 73 percent rise in first-half profit.

A measure of Australian consumer sentiment slipped for a third month in February as households fretted about the economic outlook and family finances adding a dampener to the market.

New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index added 0.7 percent or 34.7 points to 4,883.6.

(Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by Eric Meijer)