Australia Markets closed

Aust stocks follow Wall Street gains

The Australian share market finished higher following a strong lead from Wall Street and encouraging earnings reports locally.

At the close on Wednesday, the benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was 33 points, or 0.66 per cent, higher at 5,036.6 while the broader All Ordinaries index was up 31.3 points, or 0.62 per cent, at 5,053.1.

On the ASX 24, the March share price index futures contract was 40 points stronger at 5,017 with 23,247 contracts traded.

City Index market analyst Peter Esho said Australian shares had been supported by local and international investors and that regional markets remained resilient.

"Material stocks have been quite weak over the past few weeks and there's some value buying coming through," Mr Esho said.

Earnings reports showed share values were relatively stable, he said.

"There's still some strong buying."

A weaker Australian dollar had also prompted offshore interest in local equities and pessimism in Europe had not filtered through to the local bourse.

The market opened higher after stocks in the United States posted strong gains on reports of surprisingly robust new home sales and consumer confidence.

Locally, several major companies reported better than expected financial results, providing further momentum.

AGL Energy provided the most upbeat earnings report, with first half profit significantly higher due to new assets, while its underlying performance also improved.

AGL shares were up 68 cents, or 4.5 per cent, at $15.87.

Shopping centre developer and owner Westfield Group lifted its annual profit by 18 per cent, and its shares were up six cents at $11.14.

Building products group James Hardie reduced its forecast for full year earnings but its shares were up 15 cents at $9.50.

A majority of the company's business is done in the US, where it said the housing market was improving.

QBE Insurance, which also has a large exposure to the US market, was another strong performer, up 43 cents at $13.18.

Engineering firm UGL disappointed the market, with a 53 per cent drop in first half profit due to restructuring costs.

Its shares were down 60 cents at $10.30.

The four big banks were slightly higher, with Commonwealth the best performer, up 54 cents at $66.01. ANZ was up 12 cents at $28.28, National Australia Bank was eight cents stronger at $30.03 but Westpac was down three cents at $30.20.

Among the miners, BHP Billiton was up 34 cents at $36.69 and Rio Tinto up 44 cents at $66.01.

The spot price of gold in Sydney was $US1610.17 per fine ounce, up $US16.78 from Tuesday's local close at $US1,593.39 per ounce.

National turnover was 2.14 billion securities worth $4.53 billion, with 529 stocks up, 454 down and 381 steady.