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SYDNEY, Feb 25 Australian shares rose 0.9 on
Monday, moving back towards a 4-1/2 year high hit last week,
lifted by strong financials while mining stocks regained some
ground ahead of China manufacturing data after losses last week.
The Australian stock market has climbed particularly sharply
since November on receding euro zone and U.S. debt concerns, and
on a better-than-expected earnings season.
Analysts said the Australian market was moving upward on its
own momentum, despite a downgrade of Britain's credit rating
over the weekend.
"I don't think there is anything on the horizon that I see
that's going to pull our market back," said Michael Heffernan, a
Melbourne-based economist at broker Lonsec.
Investors are waiting for the HSBC flash purchasing
managers' index (PMI) out of China due out later on Monday,
which has been ticking up for four months.
"The trend in the manufacturing sector in China over recent
months has been quite positive, so I would expect that to
continue," Heffernan added.
The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index gained 45.2 points
to 5,063.3 by 0058 GMT. The index rose 0.8 percent on Friday,
but lost 0.3 percent over the week.
BHP Billiton Ltd gained 0.7 percent and Rio Tinto
Ltd inched 0.4 percent higher. Fortescue Metals Group
Ltd, the world's No. 4 iron ore producer, climbed 1.2
"Increases to Chinese manufacturing will provide a boost to
these stocks," said IG Markets strategist Evan Lucas in a note.
Financials continued a strong run, with all four major banks
trading higher. Westpac Banking Corp led the pack with
a 1.5 percent rise, and Commonwealth Bank of Australia,
the country's biggest lender, gained 0.7 percent.
Some defensive stocks also pushed higher. Supermarket chain
Woolworths Ltd jumped 2.0 percent, while rival
Coles-owner Wesfarmers Ltd climbed 1.8 percent.
New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index rose 0.4
percent to 4,232.3.
STOCKS ON THE MOVE
* Australia's troubled third-ranked television station, Ten
Network Holdings, surged 6.8 percent to A$0.32 after it
sacked its chief executive late on Friday.
(Reporting by Maggie Lu Yueyang; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)