Australia shares rise to 1-1/2 mth high, strong earnings, miners help

Sun Feb 16, 2014 8:22pm EST

(Adds analysis, quotes, stocks on the move)

SYDNEY Feb 17 (Reuters) - Australian shares inched higher to 1-1/2 month highs on Monday morning, taking heart from strong earnings reports, a rise in copper prices and another positive performance on Wall Street.

Heavyweight miners underpinned the market as copper rose, helped by a weak dollar and limited short-term availability of the metal in the physical market. Iron ore also pulled away from seven-month lows.

Global miners BHP Billiton Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd rose 0.4 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively.

The S&P/ASX 200 index added 19.4 points to 5,375.7 by 0113 GMT, its highest point since January 2. The benchmark gained 3.7 percent last week, snapping five consecutive weeks of losses and marking its biggest weekly rise since December 2011.

Sentiment got a boost from U.S. stocks closing higher on Friday, with major indexes notching a second straight week of gains despite more disappointing data.

"It's a benefit of risk appetite that's pushing the market up," said Biyi Cheng, head of Asia Pacific dealing at City Index in Sydney, adding that solid results so far, including from Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group were supporting the market.

The strong start to the earnings season has helped the market rebound from a 3 percent loss in January, putting it 0.3 percent ahead for the year.

Banks were mostly higher. Mid-tier bank Bendigo and Adelaide Bank Ltd added 1.1 percent after saying its first half net interest income increased by 8.7 percent to A$551.5 million.

Among the 'Big Four' banks, ANZ tacked on 1.1 percent while National Australia Bank gained 1.4 percent. CBA bucked the trend, losing 2.2 percent as the stock traded ex-dividend.

Top Australian coal hauler Aurizon Holdings Ltd climbed 2.7 percent, reaching all-time highs of A$5.235 after reporting an 18 percent rise in first-half underlying profit.

On the downside, Ansell Ltd dropped 4.4 percent to A$18.43, a 6-month low after the condom and glove maker reported 9 percent rise in first half sales to A$703.6 million, but chief executive Magnus Nicolin said some "numbers are still below our targeted growth rate".

Gold miners were the other highlight of the morning session as they rose on the back of bullion jumping to a three-month high above $1,300 an ounce. Newcrest Mining Ltd climbed 3.2 percent while Resolute Mining Ltd soared 8.4 percent to 5-month highs of A$0.71.

New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index added 0.2 percent to 4,900.2.

(Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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