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SYDNEY, Jan 21 Australian shares inched higher
to hit a 20-month closing high in quiet trade on Monday, helped
by gains in National Australia Bank Ltd on a report
that a Spanish bank is interested in its British business.
The S&P/ASX 200 index finished the day 6.3 points
higher at 4,777.5, building on a 1.3 percent climb last week,
the biggest weekly gain in seven weeks. Trade was subdued with
Wall Street closed later in the day for a holiday.
The market is also pricing in the likelihood of aggressive
action from the Bank of Japan to combat deflation.
"Traders are just positioning themselves for the result of
tomorrow's Bank of Japan meeting," said Ric Spooner, market
strategist at CMC Markets.
"There's a risk that we could see the framework put in place
for another monetary stimulus by the big central bank."
Sources familiar with the Bank of Japan's thinking have said
it will consider making an open-ended commitment to buy
government bonds and other assets until 2 percent inflation is
in sight and the economy is on a more solid footing.
Gold stocks climbed amid the focus on inflation prospects
with Newcrest Mining Ltd up 1.1 percent and Regis
Resources Ltd gaining 1.8 percent.
NAB'S BRITISH ASSETS EYED
National Australia Bank climbed 1.9 percent to A$26.85, a
three-month high, after the Sunday Times reported that Spain's
Banco Santander is considering a $3.2 billion bid for
its UK assets.
NAB scrapped plans to sell 337 Clydesdale and Yorkshire bank
branches last April, having struggled to attract a buyer, and
instead announced plans to shrink the business, cutting 1,400
QBE Insurance Group Ltd jumped 3.3 percent after
announcing it is may cut 700 jobs as part of cost reduction
Engineering firm Worley Parsons climbed 1 percent
after it was awarded a three year contract by Shell Gas Iraq to
provide project management support and services.
Oz Minerals Ltd gained 2.7 percent after it
increased its mineral-resource estimate by 43 percent at its
Carrapateena deposit in South Australia. The copper and gold
mining company also made a new discovery at Khamsin, 10
kilometres from the Carrapateena site.
Iron ore miners were slightly firmer. Rio Tinto Ltd
was up 0.2 percent while rival BHP Billiton Ltd inched
up 0.1 percent.
New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index added 0.5
percent, or 21 points to end the day at 4,185.2.
(Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)