Australia Markets closed

Aust stocks higher at close

Australian shares closed half a per cent higher, buoyed by the big banks and a major restructure by Boral, one of the nation's biggest manufacturers.

At the close on Wednesday, the benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was 21.8 points, or 0.46 per cent higher at 4,738.4, while the broader All Ordinaries index was up 22 points, or 0.46 per cent, at 4,765.0.

On the ASX 24, the March share price index futures contract was 16 points higher at 4,708, with 25,085 contracts traded.

Building products manufacturer Boral hit an 18-month high after it announced a company-wide restructure involving the loss of 700 jobs.

Its shares shot up 44 cents, or 10.1 per cent, to $4.80.

EL&C Baillieu Stockbroking director Richard Morrow said market sentiment shifted swiftly on Wednesday amid thin trading volumes.

"Having a big manufacturing business like Boral bite the bullet on the Aussie dollar and start to make structural readjustment, then that can and usually does lead to the same sort of thing happening in other sectors," Mr Morrow said.

"It's caught a lot of investors by surprise and sparked a lot of short covering in that stock and that's gravitated out into other stocks."

Banking and other high-yielding stocks were also driving the market higher.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia was the stand-out, up 54 cents to $62.29, Westpac gaining seven cents to $26.43, NAB putting on 14 cents to $25.85 and ANZ adding nine cents to $25.36.

Mining stocks, by contrast, were weaker with BHP Billiton shedding 28 cents to $36.25 and Rio Tinto losing 35 cents to $65.55.

Stocks in embattled surfwear brand Billabong were also weaker, following a 16 per cent surge on Tuesday after news of a second takeover offer for the company.

US retailer VF Corporation - which owns The North Face and Timberland outdoor clothing brands - and US-based Altamont Capital Partners have offered $1.10 a share for the business and will undertake due diligence.

The offer matches the one made by the Sycamore consortium led by US-based Billabong executive Paul Naude in December.

Billabong was 1.5 cents lower at 96.5 cents, down from Tuesday's peak of 99.5 cents.

Defensive stock Telstra was four cents higher at $5.60.

The spot price of Sydney gold closed at $US1,681.85 up $US10.22 from Tuesday's close of $US1,671.63.

National turnover was 1.4 billion shares worth $3.3 billion with 573 shares higher, 378 lower and 358 unchanged.