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Aust shares firmer as traders chase yields

Australian shares finished firmer as investors sought high-yielding bank stocks following this week's official interest rate cut.

At the close on Wednesday, the benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was 16.8 points, or 0.37 per cent, higher at 4,520.4, while the broader All Ordinaries index was up 16.2 points, or 0.36 per cent, at 4,528.0.

On the ASX 24, the December share price index futures contract was 24 points higher at 4,529, with 19,199 contracts traded.

RBS Morgans private client adviser Bruce Smith said the local market improved thanks to the banking sector, which closed around one per cent higher.

"Our market was dragged up by the banks, Suncorp and (also) the likes of Rio Tinto," Mr Smith said.

"It follows yesterday's (Reserve Bank of Australia cash) rate cut, as people look to high-yielding banking stocks."

Traders paid little attention to official national accounts data showing Australia's economy grew by 0.5 per cent in the September quarter, which was slightly below expectations.

Commonwealth Bank, Westpac and NAB on Wednesday passed on only 20 basis points of the full 25-basis point RBA cut to the cash rate.

ANZ will announce its interest rate decision on December 14.

Commonwealth climbed 58 cents to $61.08, Westpac was up 16 cents to $25.58, National Australia Bank put on six cents to $24.31 and ANZ added 18 cents to $24.77.

Suncorp finished 23 cents higher at $9.97.

Mining giant BHP Billiton added three cents to $34.29 and Rio Tinto rose 94 cents to 59.35.

The good news for Rio came after freight rail operator Aurizon, formerly known as QR National, extended a Queensland coal haulage contract.

Aurizon, which was up six cents at $3.63, will transport up to 12 million tonnes of coal per annum from Rio Tinto's Clermont mine to the Dalrymple Bay coal terminal for 10 years from July 2013.

Meanwhile, Ten Network Holdings shares have gone into a trading halt - having last traded at 32.5 cents - as the struggling free-to-air television broadcaster prepared to raise new funds.

Sundance Resources shares fell 11.5 per cent, or 4.5 cents, to 34.5 cents after suitor Hanlong Mining delayed a takeover deal this week.

The spot price of gold in Sydney was $US1702.15 per fine ounce, up 53 cents from Tuesday's local close of $US1,701.62 per ounce.

National turnover was 1.89 billion securities worth $3.60 billion, with 461 stocks up, 459 down and 332 unchanged.