Australia shares at 3-month highs on strong earnings, Wall St caps

Wed Feb 19, 2014 8:33pm EST

(Adds analysts comments, share moves)
    SYDNEY, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Australian stocks rose 0.3
percent on Thursday to hover at 3-month highs, underpinned by
resources and some strong earnings, though investors were
cautious after Wall Street sold off overnight on news the U.S.
Federal Reserve intends to continue tapering its stimulus. 
    Investors continued to buy into bluechip miners on the back
of strong results from Rio Tinto Ltd and BHP Billiton
Ltd. Rio added 0.5 percent, while BHP gained 1 percent.
Iluka Resources Ltd rose 0.7 percent.
    The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 17.8 points to 5,426.0 by
0113 GMT, its fifth consecutive session of gains. The benchmark
rose 0.3 percent on Wednesday and has risen 4.5 percent for the
month of February as a solid earnings season so far has helped
the market rebound from a loss of 3 percent in January. 
    "Momentum generated through the prevailing environment of
solid corporate earnings has fuelled the bulls and helped entice
sceptics from the sidelines," noted Niall King, a sales trader
at CMC Markets.
    "While confidence around the sustainability of the rally has
grown, caution is bound to surface and could delay new ground
being broken as the index approaches further technical
landmarks."
    AMP Ltd, Australia's third-largest retail funds
manager climbed 8 percent to 4-month highs of A$4.86. The
company missed forecasts with a 10.6 percent fall in full-year
profit, but its shares surged higher as the company said it was
stemming losses in its wealth protection unit. 
    Leighton Holdings Ltd jumped 7.1 percent to
A$17.57, a three month high, after Australia's biggest builder
reported a 30 percent jump in full-year underlying profit. 
    Putting something of a dampener to the local market, U.S.
stocks fell on Wednesday in a late selloff as minutes of the
U.S. Federal Reserve's latest policy-setting meeting indicated
that stimulus will continue to be trimmed unless there is a big
economic surprise.
    Elsewhere, the 'Big Four' banks all lost ground with Westpac
Banking Corp slipping 0.3 percent and Commonwealth Bank
of Australia down 0.2 percent. 
    Fairfax Media Ltd surged 20.3 percent to its
highest price in over two years, as it reported an uptick of 2.3
percent to A$178 million in earnings before interest, taxes,
depreciation and amortisation in its first half and improved
underlying profit. 
    "Their earnings were quite good, relative to what we're used
to," said Jeremy Hook, investment director at TMS Capital. 
    "It's not exactly a clear and easy to read report with the
number of moving parts, but they were better numbers than we
were expecting." 
    New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index was flat at
4,912.0. 

 (Reporting by Thuy Ong and Maggie Lu YueYang; Editing by Eric
Meijer)
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