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Bargain hunters help keep trade humming

THE sharemarket closed higher yesterday, buoyed by bargain hunters who helped to make up ground from the previous day's loss.

THE sharemarket closed higher yesterday, buoyed by bargain hunters who helped to make up ground from the previous day's loss.

Official figures showing slower than expected wages growth helped calm inflationary expectations and also provided a boost for investors.

The S&P/ASX 200 Index gained 56.6 points, or 1.33 per cent, to 4303.9.

Macquarie Private Wealth director Lucinda Chan said Australian Bureau of Statistics wages data for the June quarter grew by a less than expected pace. She said this showed an easing of inflationary pressures and made it more likely the Reserve Bank would keep interest rates steady next month.

"That's one reason why the market got a little bit excited today, plus we had some strong earnings from companies," she said.

Ms Chan said that with world markets slowing and a resolution to the US and European debt crises still a long way off, any greater gains on the market would be limited.

"We lost a lot over the last week, a huge amount in the market," she said. "We've seen a bit of bargain-hunting today and that has lifted the market. We've recovered the losses we made yesterday." The shopping centre owner Westfield Group rose 6? to $8.20 despite posting a 32 per cent fall in half-year profit. Among energy stocks, Woodside Petroleum gained 44? to $37.76, despite an 8.1 per cent dip in first-half net profit.

A fellow oil and gas producer, Santos was up 21? at $12.14 and Oil Search was 7? stronger at $6.48.

Among the miners, BHP Billiton gained 39? to $39.82 and Rio Tinto was $1.03, or 1.4 per cent, higher at $74.42.

The major banks closed higher, making up losses in early trade, with Westpac up 26? to $20.51 a day after posting a 2 per cent fall in third-quarter cash earnings due to slowing credit growth.

National Australia Bank was 15? up at $23.36. ANZ gained 23? to $20.58 and Commonwealth Bank was 57? higher at $47.40. The building materials manufacturer Boral slid 19? to $3.69 despite revealing full-year net profit of $167.7 million after the previous year's loss, but it said the outlook for US housing remained poor.

The transport group Brambles was up 29? at $6.93 after announcing plans to offload its information management subsidiary and use the proceeds to reduce debt and invest more than $US500 million ($A478.65 million) on its pallets operations.

The price of gold in Sydney closed at $US1787.15 per fine ounce, up $US17.82 from Tuesday's local close.

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