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Aust shares at highest level since 2008

The Australian share market closed at its highest level since 2008 as bank stocks soared on a better than expected profit from Commonwealth Bank (CBA).

At the close on Wednesday, the benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was 44.7 points, or 0.9 per cent, higher at 5,003.7 while the broader All Ordinaries index was up 43 points, or 0.86 per cent, at 5,024.5.

On the ASX 24, the March share price index futures contract was 30 points higher at 4,956 with 27,500 contracts traded.

The market is up nearly eight per cent so far in 2013.

The last time the ASX200 closed higher was when it finished at 5020.5 points on September 22, 2008, during the heart of the global financial crisis.

It has not closed above 5,000 points since April 15, 2010, while the All Ordinaries has not closed above 5,000 since April 2011.

While a string of positive profit results helped along Wednesday's rise, many other index heavyweights were yet to report, CMC Markets senior trader Tim Waterer said.

"For the market to consolidate and get comfortable above 5000, we need to see a trend and some follow up acts from some of the other key blue-chip stocks," he told AAP.

"CBA had a great result but ANZ might come out on Friday and have a sub-par result."

Resources giant BHP Billiton is the biggest stock on the market, but the Commonwealth Bank is number two, while the other banking pillars are the next three largest, and collectively drove the market higher.

CBA on Wednesday posted a record cash profit of $3.78 billion for the six months to the end of December, and increased its dividends by 20 per cent.

CBA was up $1.59, or 2.4 per cent, to a record high at $67.11.

Westpac was 58 cents, or 2.1 per cent, up at $28.33, ANZ added 25 cents to $27.81 and National Australia Bank was 36 cents higher at $29.29.

The Westpac/Melbourne Institute Consumer Sentiment Index, released on Wednesday, recorded a 7.7 per cent rise to 108.3, with a reading above 100 indicating positive sentiment outweighed negative sentiment among respondents.

Construction giant Leighton was another strong performer, after returning to profitability in 2012 with a $450.1 million net profit.

Its shares shot up $2.33, or 11.2 per cent, to 11-month highs at $23.14.

Resources stocks were also stronger, with BHP Billiton up 33 cents at $37.92 and Rio Tinto was up $1.43, or 2.1 per cent, at $70.46 ahead of the release of its full year earnings result on Thursday.

Medical gloves and condoms maker Ansell posted a 15 per cent fall in first half net profit, and its shares fell 97 cents, or 5.7 per cent, at $15.94.

The spot price of gold in Sydney was $US1,649.71 per fine ounce, up $US3.14 from Tuesday's local close of $US1,646.57 per ounce.

National turnover was 1.79 billion securities worth $5.09 billion with 553 stocks up, 448 down and 357 unchanged.