(Adds details, comments, stocks on the move)
SYDNEY, Feb 20 Australian shares rose 0.3
percent on Wednesday, extending a rally that has taken the
market to 4-1/2 year highs, but global miner BHP Billiton lost
ground after its half-year profit dropped sharply and it
appointed a new CEO.
BHP Billiton dropped 1.2 percent after reporting a
43 percent drop in half-year profits, its worst half-year slide
in more than a decade but in line with market expectations. The
company said CEO Marius Kloppers will step down in May and be
replaced by Andrew Mackenzie.
"There's a few fears creeping into the (BHP) stock," said
Chris Weston, institutional dealer at IG Markets. BHP said it
expects global commodity prices to remain under pressure as new
low-cost supplies come into production, even through demand is
expected to improve over the next 12 months.
Rival iron ore miner Rio Tinto Ltd lost 1.3
Financials underpinned the market, with National Australia
Bank leading gains, jumping 1.6 percent.
The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index was 16.3 points
higher at 5,098 at 0100 GMT. On Tuesday, the market closed at
its highest level since September 3, 2008. The Australian market
has risen nearly 10% percent this year on receding euro zone and
U.S. debt concerns, while a relatively strong earnings season
has amplified those gains.
"There's a few good earnings reports but I think it's this
hunt for yield that continues to push our market higher," Weston
"I think that's keeping the support; the market doesn't want
to go down and you just don't want to be missing out."
Big retailers also supported the market. Harvey Norman
climbed 1.3 percent while David Jones rose 0.8
percent. Myer bucked the trend, plumbing 0.9 percent.
Food retailers Woolworths Ltd jumped 1.2 percent while
rival Wesfarmers was up 0.8 percent.
New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index lost 0.9
percent or 40.5 points to 4,203.7.
STOCKS ON THE MOVE
* Aurizon Holdings Ltd lost 5.3 percent to A$3.98.
The company reported a 27 percent increase in underlying net
profit after tax to $222 million for the first half of the
*Seven West Media Ltd crashed 7.1 percent after
reporting a half year net loss of $109.3 million
* Suncorp Group Ltd plumbed 4.3 percent to A$11.16.
The insurance company posted a profit of $574 million for the
* Toll Holdings Ltd surged 4.1 percent to A$5.86.
The company reported a half-year net profit of $196 million.
* Woodside Petroleum Ltd climbed 3.3 percent to
A$39.15. Australia's biggest oil and gas company reported a 98
percent surge in full-year net profit on Wednesday, beating
(Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)