January 23, 2013 / 1:20 AM / 6 years ago

Australia shares touch 20-month high; BHP gains on output rise

(Updates with CPI numbers)
    MELBOURNE, Jan 23 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose 0.3
percent on Wednesday, touching a 20-month high for a second
consecutive day, as miner BHP Billiton gained after
reporting a rise in quarterly iron ore production.
    The market barely flinched as data showed Australian
consumer price inflation was unexpectedly benign last quarter
due to falls in food, electronics and drugs. 
    The local dollar eased slightly as the data modestly added
to the chance of a rate cut next month.
    "There's probably a 35 to 40 percent chance of a February
rate cut, so not enough to get it over the line. But certainly
we think the prospects of a March rate cut are very real," said
Brian Redican, senior economist at Macquarie Bank.
    Australia's benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index was up 15
points at 4,794.4 by 0101 GMT. Its session high of 4,802.2 was
the strongest since May 2011.
    "It's had a pretty good trot. The asset location shift - out
of what are likely to be lower returns in fixed interest and
those types of things into equities - makes sense to us. But
whether the upcoming earnings results in February can justify
the price moves, well, time will tell," said John Milroy, client
adviser at Macquarie Private Wealth.
    New Zealand's NZX 50 index rose 0.1 percent to
    The Standard & Poor's 500 hit a fresh five-year closing high
    * Top miner BHP rose 1.2 percent to A$37 after it reported a
3 percent rise in iron ore production in the December quarter.
    0017 GMT
    * St Barbara Ltd rose 7 percent to A$1.555 after it
announced consolidated gold production of 92,691 ounces for the
December quarter.
    0017 GMT

    * Mirabela Nickel Ltd fell 6.6 percent after UBS
cut its target price on its Toronto listing to C$0.75, from
    0019 GMT

 (Reporting by Miranda Maxwell; Editing by Chris Gallagher)
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