Banks drive index to four-year high

THE sharemarket has closed at fresh four-year highs, led by the big banks.

THE sharemarket has closed at fresh four-year highs, led by the big banks.

On Monday, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index lifted 29.5 points, or 0.59 per cent, to 5063.4, while the broader All Ordinaries Index added 28.3 points, or 0.56 per cent, to 5082.9.

It was the S&P/ASX200 Index's highest close since early September 2008.

On the ASX 24, the March share price index futures contract was up 47 points at 5042 points, with 28,381 contracts traded.

"Momentum in financial stocks continues to be there," IG Markets market strategist Evan Lucas said, as investors continued to support the banks in the wake of a strong earnings report from Commonwealth Bank last week.

"The banks are absolutely driving this market."

Mr Lucas said Commonwealth Bank and telco Telstra were not weighing upon the market too much on Monday despite going ex-dividend.

He said miner Rio Tinto had also jumped back after being oversold on Friday after its full year earnings report in which the company reported a statutory loss but an underlying profit.

Mr Lucas said a lot of mid-cap stocks had released their earnings reports on Monday, and overall they were fairly pleasing.

He said investors were looking forward to Wednesday, when global miner BHP Billiton reports.

Among the major banks, ANZ rose 73¢ to $28.50, National Australia Bank gained 64¢ to $30.15, Westpac jumped $1.05 to $30.20 and Commonwealth Bank was down $1.25 at $65.78.

Bendigo and Adelaide Bank was 32¢ richer at $10.17 as it said interest rates on deposit accounts may be about to fall as other sources of funds become cheaper and more accessible for banks.

Steelmaker BlueScope soared 58¢, or 15.4 per cent, to $4.35 on news that its first-half loss had narrowed.

Pacific Brands firmed 2.5¢ to 75.5¢ after reporting it had returned to profitability.

Drilling company Boart Longyear dropped 17.5¢, or 8.2 per cent, to $1.965 after it said it expects the downturn in last year's operating revenue to continue.

Construction company Lend Lease fell 27¢ to $10.42 as it reported a 39 per cent profit jump.

Packaging company Amcor strengthened 23¢ to $9.14 as it lifted first-half profit by 16 per cent and said it would cut about 300 jobs.

The price of gold in Sydney was $US1615.85 an ounce, down $US17.34 on Friday's closing price of $US1633.19.

National turnover was 2.42 billion securities worth $9.35 billion, with 519 stocks up, 527 down and 360 unchanged. AAP

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