(Adds details, comments, stocks on the move)
SYDNEY May 3 Australian shares rose 0.7 percent
on Friday, as forecast-busting earnings from Westpac Banking
Corp and Macquarie Group Ltd led a rally in
Sentiment also got a boost from a cut in European interest
rates to an all-time low and a positive lead from Wall Street,
sending the S&P/ASX 200 index up 34.3 points to 5,164.3
by 0105 GMT. The benchmark fell 0.7 percent on Thursday.
Westpac advanced 0.8 percent after Australia's
third-largest lender, reported a better-than-expected 10 percent
rise in first-half profit on Friday, as the bank's Australian
business recorded double digit earnings growth. The bank also
announced a surprise A$0.10 per share special dividend.
"Income is paramount, and Westpac is certainly going to
create some euphoria with the result today," said Evan Lucas,
market strategist at IG.
"Most people had expected the special dividend probably will
be released in the second half of this year rather than the
Macquarie surged 10.4 percent to a 3-year high of A$42.88
after Australia's top investment bank beat forecasts with a 17
percent rise in full-year profit as cost cutting and strength in
its annuity-style businesses outweighed lingering weakness in
"(Macquarie's results) do look quite impressive. It does show
that investment banking, and obviously wealth management is
increasing," Lucas said.
The strong earnings come on the heels of Australia and New
Zealand Banking Group Ltd posting similar stellar
results this week, luring more buyers to an already sizzling
financial sector that's been the main driver of the Australian
market in recent weeks. ANZ climbed 1 percent.
Commonwealth Bank of Australia edged up 0.3 percent
while National Australia Bank climbed 1 percent to
notch a 5-year high of A$34.16.
The offshore news from overnight was slightly more upbeat,
providing investors reason to buy back some of the beaten-down
"I think the broader picture is reasonably positive," said
Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy at AMP Capital
"Evidence suggests a lot of investors are on the sidelines
looking for better returns."
The European Central Bank cut interest rates for the first
time in 10 months, by a quarter percentage point to a record low
0.50 percent, and held out the possibility of further policy
action to support the recession-hit euro zone economy.
Miners were firmer. BHP Billiton Ltd and Rio Tinto
Ltd climbed 0.8 percent and 1.3 percent respectively
after metal prices recovered overnight on the ECB's rate cut.
U.S. stocks closed about 1 percent higher on Thursday, led
by tech shares, after weekly jobless claims figures pointed to
improving labor market conditions a day before the closely
watched monthly payroll report.
New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index lost 0.8
percent or 37.4 points to 4,537.1.
STOCKS ON THE MOVE
* Qantas Airways advanced 1.2 percent to A$1.87
after the national carrier said that its FY 13 and FY 14 capital
expenditure is forecast at $1.6 billion and $1.5 billion
* JB Hi Fi Ltd soared 8.1 percent to A$16.76 after
the electronic goods and entertainment retailer announced a
profit upgrade for financial year 2013 to between $112 million
and $116 million. JB Hi Fi shares have surged 62 percent so far
(Reporting by Thuy Ong and Maggie Lu Yueyang; Editing by Shri