Australia shares rise to 1-1/2 mth high, strong earnings, miners help

Reuters - UK Focus

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SYDNEY, Feb 17 (Reuters) - Australian shares inched higherto 1-1/2 month highs on Monday morning, taking heart from strongearnings reports, a rise in copper prices and another positiveperformance on Wall Street.

Heavyweight miners underpinned the market as copper rose,helped by a weak dollar and limited short-term availability ofthe metal in the physical market. Iron ore also pulled away fromseven-month lows.

Global miners BHP Billiton Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd (Xetra: 855018 - news) rose 0.4 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively.

The S&P/ASX 200 index added 19.4 points to 5,375.7by 0113 GMT, its highest point since January 2. The benchmarkgained 3.7 percent last week, snapping five consecutive weeks oflosses and marking its biggest weekly rise since December 2011.

Sentiment got a boost from U.S. stocks closing higher onFriday, with major indexes notching a second straight week ofgains despite more disappointing data.

"It's a benefit of risk appetite that's pushing the marketup," said Biyi Cheng, head of Asia Pacific dealing at City Indexin Sydney, adding that solid results so far, including fromCommonwealth Bank of Australia (Other OTC: CBAUF - news) and Australia and NewZealand Banking Group were supporting the market.

The strong start to the earnings season has helped themarket rebound from a 3 percent loss in January, putting it 0.3percent ahead for the year.

Banks were mostly higher. Mid-tier bank Bendigo and AdelaideBank Ltd added 1.1 percent after saying its first halfnet interest income increased by 8.7 percent to A$551.5 million.

Among the 'Big Four' banks, ANZ tacked on 1.1 percent whileNational Australia Bank gained 1.4 percent. CBA buckedthe trend, losing 2.2 percent as the stock traded ex-dividend.

Top Australian coal hauler Aurizon Holdings Ltd climbed 2.7 percent, reaching all-time highs of A$5.235 afterreporting an 18 percent rise in first-half underlyingprofit.

On the downside, Ansell Ltd (Other OTC: ANSLF - news) dropped 4.4 percent toA$18.43, a 6-month low after the condom and glove maker reported9 percent rise in first half sales to A$703.6 million, but chiefexecutive Magnus Nicolin said some "numbers are still below ourtargeted growth rate".

Gold miners were the other highlight of the morning sessionas they rose on the back of bullion jumping to a three-monthhigh above $1,300 an ounce. Newcrest Mining Ltd climbed3.2 percent while Resolute Mining Ltd soared 8.4percent to 5-month highs of A$0.71.

New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index added 0.2percent to 4,900.2.

(Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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