Banks, telcos buck European unease

AUSTRALIAN shares have closed slightly higher, driven by gains in the telecommunications and financial sectors.

AUSTRALIAN shares have closed slightly higher, driven by gains in the telecommunications and financial sectors.

But gains remained limited as concerns about Europe's debt woes and political uncertainty weighed on investors.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index rose 11.9 points, or 0.3 per cent, to 4297, while the broader All Ordinaries Index rose 9.2 points, or 0.2 per cent, to 4351.9.

The rise was driven by monetary easing in China but the gains were held back by losses in the resources sector, a market strategist at IG Markets, Stan Shamu, said.

China's central bank reduced its reserve required ratio - freeing up cash to lend - to stimulate the economy after disappointing import and export economic data last week.

"There was a lift in risk assets early on, particularly in the resource space, but, unfortunately, through the day the uncertainty coming from Greece weighed on most of the risk assets," Mr Shamu said.

New elections may have to be called in Greece, a prospect that is dreaded by the European Union as it could mean further delays to promised structural reforms.

High dividend paying bank and telco stocks performed well on the ASX.

Commonwealth Bank was the best performer of the big banks, rising $1, or 1.9 per cent, to $52.40.

ANZ was 16? higher at $22.20, National Australia Bank was 25? higher at $24.80 and Westpac was 65? lower at $22.07 after it went ex-dividend.

The big miners were mixed but the overall sector was down. BHP Billiton was firmer for most of the day but edged off highs after an executive said he could not rule out a write-down of shale gas assets.

BHP rose 9?, or 0.3 per cent, to $34.46, Rio Tinto fell 7? to $61 and Fortescue Metals fell 5? to $5.34.

Telstra extended its recent rally, rising 4?, or 1.1 per cent, to close at $3.64.

Also supporting exporters was a dip in the Australian dollar to multi-month lows below parity, helping exporters such as blood products maker CSL rise 1 per cent.

The rare earths producer Arafura Resources jumped 1.8 per cent after confirming it was talking with a range of potential investors for its Nolans project.

The fertiliser and explosives maker Incitec Pivot rose 0.3 per cent despite a 20 per cent fall in underlying earnings. The firm's explosives unit's earnings surprised, vindicating expansion and lifting investor mood.

National turnover was 1.5 billion securities worth $4.1 billion and 401 stocks were up, 551 down and 426 unchanged.

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