(Adds details, comments, stocks on the move)
SYDNEY, Jan 17 Australian shares rallied 0.8
percent to a 20-month high, with gains across the board, as data
showing an unexpected fall in Australian employment in December
bolstered the odds for another interest rate cut.
Banks were firmer, with Australia's no.1 lender, the
Commonwealth Bank of Australia leading gains, up 1
Retailers also improved on the hopes for a boost to
economic activity, with furniture and electrical goods store
Harvey Norman adding 2.4 percent. Supermarket giants
Wesfarmers Ltd and Woolworths Ltd rose 1.7
percent and 1.4 percent respectively.
The S&P/ASX 200 index gained steadily during
morning trade, and pushed higher after the jobs data to be up
36.2 points at 4,774.6 by 0106 GMT, its highest level since May
2011. The index rose 0.5 percent on Wednesday.
Australian employment unexpectedly dipped 5,500 in December
while the jobless rate nudged up 5.4 percent, a soft report that
led markets to narrow the odds of further rate cuts.
"The RBA looks at the employment data closely, and this
figure is definitely supportive for the argument to cut rates
further," said Tom Kennedy, economist at JPMorgan.
Analysts said the data came against a fairly positive global
background for the share market.
"There's a growing sentiment among investors that
international risks have been significantly reduced,
particularly after the U.S. made a start on its fiscal
negotiations," said Ric Spooner, market strategist at CMC
Iron ore miner BHP Billiton Ltd rose 1.1 percent,
but rival Rio Tinto Ltd fell 0.9 percent. Mineral sands
producer Iluka Resources jumped 6.5 percent after
announcing fresh steps to cut costs.
New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index rallied 0.8
percent, or 32.5 points to 4,201.8.
STOCKS ON THE MOVE
* Woodside Petroleum Ltd rose 0.9 percent to
A$35.51. Australia's top oil and gas company posted a 46 percent
rise in fourth-quarter production from a year earlier and
maintained its 2013 production forecast of 88 million to 94
million barrels of oil equivalent (mmboe).
* Santos gained 1.5 percent to A$11.81. The oil and
gas company is on track to meet its 2013 production forecasts
after enjoying a 10 percent rise in 2012.
(Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by Richard Pullin)