(Adds analysis, quotes, stocks on the move)
SYDNEY Feb 24 Australian shares held firm at
3-1/2 month highs on Monday, pushing modestly higher in a choppy
morning underpinned by gains in resources and banking stocks.
BHP Billiton Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd climbed
1.3 percent and 0.5 percent as copper held steady on Friday. BHP
and Rio both surpassed market forecasts with solid earnings
earlier this month.
Banks were also bid up in morning trade, with Westpac
Banking Corp and Australia and New Zealand Banking
Group rising 0.7 percent each.
Keeping the market restrained were stocks going ex-dividend.
Australia's biggest telephone company Telstra Corporation Ltd
and grocer Wesfarmers Ltd fell 3 percent and
2.3 percent, respectively, as both traded without rights to
The S&P/ASX 200 index added 14.3 points to 5,453.0
by 0054 GMT, a hair's breath away from the previous high of
5,457.3 hit on October 28, 2013. A breach of that level would
mark the highest point for the benchmark in 5-1/2 years.
The market rose 0.5 percent on Friday, and added 1.5 percent
for the week, its third consecutive week of gains. The benchmark
has risen 4.8 percent so far in February, rebounding from a 3
percent loss in January, underpinned by a healthy earnings
"In fundamental terms, earnings growth is improving," said
David Cassidy and Dean Dusanic, strategists at UBS in a note to
clients, adding that better revenues have been helped by a lower
Aussie dollar while higher margins were supported by
Bluescope Steel Ltd jumped 8 percent to 3-1/2 year
highs of A$6.35 after the steel manufacturer delivered a strong
first half net profit of A$49.1 million, a A$50.7 million
improvement from the year-ago period.
Beach Energy Ltd soared 6.2 percent to near 1-year
highs of A$1.62 after saying its half year net profit
attributable to members was up 267 percent to A$160.5 million.
On the downside, Boart Longyear tumbled 8.2 percent
to A$0.39 after the drilling services firm posted a full-year
loss for 2013 due to continuing weakness in the global mining
"Earnings have been largely as expected, we've seen traders
close off their positions pre any announcement on expectation of
surprises," said Kara Ordway, market maker and trader at City
"There's been a bit more caution than we have seen in the
past during earnings season."
New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index added 0.4
percent to 4,946.2.
(Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)