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SYDNEY, Feb 20 Australian shares rose 0.3
percent on Wednesday, extending the market's bull run at 4-1/2
year highs, drawing momentum from overseas leads and a
better-than-expected earnings season.
Financials led the index higher, with the Commonwealth Bank
of Australia posting the biggest gains of 1.2 percent.
BHP Billiton plumbed 0.9 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.
Rival iron ore miner Rio Tinto Ltd lost 1.6
"BHP has beeen the key focal point," said Chris Weston,
chief market strategist at IG Markets.
"[The Australian market's] hunt for yield doesn't seem to
run out of steam with financials and certain staples names doing
The S&P/ASX 200 index finished the day 16.8 points
higher at 5,098.7. 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.
fiscal concerns, while a relatively strong earnings season has
amplified those gains.
"The tide continued to push higher for equity markets across
Asia today, with solid leads from Europe and the U.S. enough to
keep traders in a buying frame of mind," said Tim Waterer,
senior trader at CMC Markets.
Fortescue Metals Group dropped 5 percent. The
world's no.4 iron ore producer reported a 40 percent fall in
first-half profit due to weak iron ore prices but flagged
resurgent demand from Chinese steel makers.
Retailers also supported the market. Harvey Norman
jumped 1.3 percent while David Jones climbed 0.8
percent and rival Myer was up 0.7 percent. Food
retailers Woolworths Ltd jumped 2.2 percent while rival
Wesfarmers rose 0.9 percent.
Leighton Holdings soared 3.6 percent. The company
is in negotiations to sell 70 percent of its telco assets.
Seven West Media Ltd crashed 7.1 percent after
reporting a half year net loss of $109.3 million.
New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index finished the
session 0.7 percent or 30 points lower at 4,214.2.
(Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by Eric Meijer)