MELBOURNE, Dec 27 Australian shares rose 0.3
percent on Thursday, following a two-day break from trade, with
volumes light as final and crucial efforts to avert or at least
postpone a U.S. "fiscal cliff" get underway.
The local market is up 14.6 percent so far this year.
Sentiment was given a boost on Thursday as official data showed
annual growth of China's industrial profits quickened to 22.8
percent in November from October's 20.5 percent. China is
Australia's largest export market.
Movement was constrained, though, as investors wait to see
how the U.S. budget impasse is resolved.
"The consequences of them not coming to some arrangement are
very, very harsh and I think it's all politicking at the moment
and we'll see some resolution," said Winston Sammut, investment
director, Maxim Asset Management.
While acknowledging it was a "gamble" to invest on the basis
that a compromise could be reached, Sammut said he was on
balance confident there would be an agreement in time.
The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index rose 13 points to 4,648.0,
after gaining 0.3 percent in a short session on Monday. The
index is up 3.2 percent for December so far.
New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index rose 0.2
percent to 4,065.5.
The gains came even as U.S. stocks fell for a third straight
day after a report showed consumers spent less in the holiday
shopping season than last year.
"Most risk assets will probably remain range-bound until we
get a clearer indication of what to expect from the fiscal cliff
negotiations," said Stan Shamu, strategist at IG Markets.
"Volume is likely to remain relatively light with many
investors still on holidays."
Fortescue Metals Group rose 4.1 percent to A$4.53
after announcing it will develop its Kings deposit. The iron ore
expansion had been put on hold in September amid a cash crunch.
BHP Billiton finished up 0.4 percent at A$36.99 and
Rio Tinto advanced 0.9 percent to A$65.45, helped by a
rise in copper and iron ore prices.
The Metal Bulletin index for 62-percent grade iron ore
.IO62-CNI=SI rose to its the highest since early May and is on
track to rise nearly 19 percent this month.
In a sign that the rally may continue, an Australian cargo
of 62 percent grade iron ore was traded at $142 a tonne on
globalORE on Thursday, traders said.
Retailers rose in light trade as National Australia Bank
said the number of its card transactions for Wednesday,
when Boxing Day sales attract thousands of bargain hunters, were
up about 30 percent on a year earlier, with a peak transaction
rate of 100 a second.
The Australian National Retailers Association predicted
around A$1.8 billion was spent by shoppers on Wednesday alone, a
rise of 2.5 percent on a year earlier.
"Festive periods are generally make-or-break for many
retailers, as most of their annual sales revenue is drawn from
this period," said Shamu.
Department store Myer gained 2.9 percent while
rival David Jones added 3 percent. Harvey Norman
rose 1.6 percent.
(Reporting by Miranda Maxwell; Editing by Ron Popeski)