The share market started the day in the doldrums but rallied midway through the session after official figures from China showed its latest trade surplus was much bigger than expected.
The All Ordinaries added 0.3 per cent to close at 4,745 and the ASX 200 rose by the same amount, to 4,723.
The trade data showed in December to a record high.
That lifted iron ore miners; Fortescue Metals advanced by 2.3 per cent to $4.85, and Rio Tinto closed up 0.4 per cent, at $67.10, while BHP Billiton lost 0.5 per cent.
Shares in takeover target MacMahon Holdings rose 1.8 per cent to 28 cents after it received a revised approach from the Indian-owned Sembawang Australia.
The big four banks also finished at least 0.3 per cent higher; ANZ fared the best, up 0.5 per cent to $25.15.
Retail stocks were mixed.
Myer recovered some of yesterday's steep loss, adding 1.9 per cent, while David Jones went the other way, down 1.3 per cent.
In economic news, Bureau of Statistics figures show in November on a seasonally adjusted basis.
The result was driven by a large jump in apartment approvals.
Approvals in Victoria soared, but every other state posted a decline, with the biggest drop in South Australia.
The Australian dollar jumped more than half a cent against its US counterpart after the China data was released.
About 5pm (AEDT) it was buying 105.5 US cents, 80.9 euro cents, 93 Japanese yen and 65.9 British pence.
Spot gold was lower at $US1,658 an ounce, West Texas crude oil was relatively steady at $US93.20 a barrel and Tapis crude was up slightly at $US119.20.