(Adds analysis, quotes, stocks on the move)
SYDNEY Feb 17 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
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
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)