(Adds analysis, quotes, stocks on the move)
SYDNEY Feb 19 Australian shares held at
three-month highs on Wednesday morning, with the market adding
to recent gains on the back of a string of upbeat earnings
Big-cap banking stocks provided the early momentum, with
Commonwealth Bank of Australia up 0.6 percent and
Westpac Banking Corp gaining 0.9 percent.
Global miner BHP Billiton Ltd took a breather,
easing 0.2 percent following a strong run in the previous
session when it reported a solid 31 percent rise in first-half
"With many investors now considering that the fair price for
BHP is significantly above (A)$40, it will be interesting to see
whether yesterday's large rally is sustained for a while yet,"
Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets said in a note.
Smaller rival Rio Tinto Ltd slipped 0.1 percent,
while Fortescue Metals Group climbed 1.6 percent after
announcing changes to its dividend reinvestment plan.
The S&P/ASX 200 index added 20.4 points to 5,413.2
by 0102 GMT. The benchmark edged up 0.2 percent on Tuesday.
The market has moved up rapidly on the back of strong
earnings over the past two weeks, up nearly 7 percent and is now
at levels last seen around the middle of November.
"We've had such a terrific run...It doesn't surprise to have
a slight rest," said John Milroy, an investment adviser at
Macquarie Private Wealth.
Brambles Ltd gained 3.0 percent after its
first-half underlying net profit rose 11 percent.
Wesfarmers Ltd also reported a 11.2 percent rise in
first-half net profit, driven by underpinned by strong retail
businesses including Coles supermarkets. But its shares slipped
0.7 percent on the view that the stock is pricey.
"I actually thought the result was very good...(but)they are
expensive if you look at multiples, a lot of people need to see
some really amazing numbers," said Even Lucas, market strategist
Putting a bit of a dampener in the morning session, Suncorp
Group Ltd disappointed after posting a 4.5 percent fall
in half year net profit on increasing claims. The stock slipped
Seek Ltd surged 14.4 percent after posting 65
percent rise in its first-half net profit and announcing an
agreement to acquire of JobStreet online businesses.
Elsewhere, Prana Biotechnology Ltd shares jumped
23.5 after the company said its experimental brain disorder drug
improved cognitive function in a study on patients with
New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index edged up 0.1
percent to 4,901.3.
(Reporting by Maggie Lu Yueyang; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)