Australia Markets closed

Aust stocks close at 19-month high

Australian shares have closed at a fresh 19-month high despite disappointing jobs numbers while Woodside Petroleum finished flat after delivering good news on production.

At the close on Thursday, the benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was 18.3 points, or 0.38 per cent higher at 4,756.6, while the broader All Ordinaries index was up 14.7 points, or 0.31 per cent, at 4,779.7.

It was the S&P/ASX200's highest close since it finished the local trading day at 4,780.2 points on May 11, 2011.

On the ASX 24, the March share price index futures contract was 16 points higher at 4,721, with 31,483 contracts traded.

Banking stocks finished in firmer territory, after Australian Bureau of Statistics data showed the national unemployment rate rose to 5.4 per cent in December.

City Index chief market analyst Peter Esho said the economic news helped banking stocks, as financial markets firmed their expectations for a near-term rate cut.

"We're more likely to see the Reserve Bank move in February," he told AAP.

"It will help the banks with their margins and it will make dividend yields more attractive."

Mr Esho said lower mortgage rates meant banks could deliver lower interest rates on deposits.

Of the big four banks, ANZ posted the strongest gains, rising by 21 cents, or 0.83 per cent, to finish at $25.57.

National Australia Bank added 19 cents, or 0.74 per cent, to close at $26.04 while Westpac, which also gained 19 cents, or 0.72 per cent, ended at $26.62.

The Commonwealth Bank climbed by 17 cents, or 0.27 per cent, to finish at $62.46.

Energy stocks did well, but Woodside Petroleum finished flat despite revealing that production and revenue had risen by about 30 per cent in 2012 to new records, because of its massive Pluto liquefied natural gas operations in Western Australia.

It shares closed at $35.20, after earlier hitting an intraday high of $35.56 during late morning trade.

Oil and gas company Santos also revealed it was on track to meet its 2013 production forecasts after enjoying a 10 per cent rise in 2012.

Santos finished up eight cents, or 0.69 per cent, at $11.72.

Uranium miner Paladin Energy's share closed three cents, or 2.6 cents, higher at $1.185 after it revealed it was on track to meet full-year production targets.

Billabong shares closed 4.66 per cent firmer at $1.01 on Thursday, two days after the stock soared when US retailer VF Corporation's takeover bid stirred hopes of a bidding war.

Conversely, Qantas shares finished 1.3 per cent weaker, despite earlier gains, after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission gave interim authorisation of the airline's alliance with Emirates.

The spot price of Sydney gold closed at $US1,678.38 down $US3.47 from Wednesday's close of $US1,681.85.

National turnover was 1.427 billion shares worth $4.146 billion with 483 shares higher, 482 lower and 361 unchanged.