(Updates to late morning, adds analyst comment)
Jan 18 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose 0.4 percent in late morning trade on Friday to sit around a 20-month high, buoyed by mining stocks and a strong lead from Wall Street, as investors waited on Chinese GDP data.
Global miner Rio Tinto Ltd jumped 2.9 percent after chief executive Tom Albanese stepped down following billions of dollars of write-offs on aluminium and coal assets, to be replaced by iron ore division chief Sam Walsh.
“He is probably a bit more disciplined and stringent player,” said Evan Lucas, a market strategist at IG Markets. “He is quite a good fit.”
The S&P/ASX 200 index gained 19.2 points to 4,775.8 by 0059 GMT. The benchmark rose 0.4 percent to a 20-month high of 4,756.6 on Thursday.
New Zealand’s benchmark NZX 50 index rose 0.2 percent to 4205.7 in early trade.
The mining sector posted broad gains, with top miner BHP Billiton Ltd adding 0.7 percent and Fortescue Metals Group Ltd jumping 3.7 percent.
Investors are also awaiting the new GDP data from China, Australia’s biggest resources buyer, which are due at 0200 GMT. Annual economic growth may have quickened to 7.8 percent in the fourth quarter a Reuters poll showed.
“Considering the material we saw the other week from China, it wouldn’t be unexpected to see the GDP (data) do a similar thing,” said Lucas, referring to the China trade data, which exceeded market expectations.
* OZ Minerals Ltd, Australia’s no. 3 copper producer, jumped 3.5 percent to A$7.18 after copper rose more than 1 percent on Thursday on encouraging U.S. housing and jobs data.
0054 GMT Reporting By Maggie Lu Yueyang; Editing by Richard Pullin