Australia Markets closed

Aust stocks reach 19 month high

Australian shares have reached a 19-month high as optimistic investors push the local bourse 2.7 per cent higher for the year.

At 1200 AEDT on Thursday, the benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was up 37.6 points, or 0.79 per cent, at 4,776 and the broader All Ordinaries index added 33.6 points, or 0.71 per cent, to 4,709.6.

On the ASX 24, the March share price index futures contract was up 40 points at 4,746 with 9,287 contracts traded.

The S&P/ASX200 index peaked 4,750 on January 3, hitting the highest level since May 2011.

Figures released at 1130 AEDT showed Australia's unemployment rate rose to 5.4 per cent in December from 5.3 per cent in November.

CommSec market analyst Steve Daghlian said a weak US lead and disappointing jobs figures had not deterred local investors who are factoring in a 37 per cent chance of an interest rate cut next month.

"While the jobs number was disappointing, we saw a revision for November, and jobs actually rose over the last two months," Mr Daghlian said.

He said the positive momentum had continued since the US and Chinese economies appeared to be on a more positive footing.

In closing trade, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 26.34 points (0.19 per cent) at 13,508.55.

Energy stocks were outperforming the market after Woodside Petroleum revealed 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.

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.

Woodside shares rose 33 cents, or 0.94 per cent, to $35.54, while Santos was 18 cents, or 1.55 per cent, higher at $11.82.

Billabong shares rose 3.6 per cent to $1.00 on Thursday, two days after the stock soared amid hopes of a bidding war erupting for the embattled surfwear company.

Meanwhile, Qantas shares were were 0.16 per cent higher after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission gave interim authorisation of the airline's alliance with Emirates.

National turnover was 1.3 billion shares worth $3.3 billion, with 573 stocks up, 378 down and 358 unchanged.