THE stockmarket closed slightly higher yesterday, with financial sector stocks dragging the bourse across the line in a late rally.
The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index closed up 10.6 points, or 0.25 per cent, at 4253.4, while the broader All Ordinaries index rose 8.5 points, or 0.2 per cent, to close at 4327.4. The March share price index futures contract was 11 points higher at 4220, on volume of 32,274 contracts.
The market opened stronger, buoyed by good results from the Commonwealth Bank, the nation's largest lender, before turning negative, with softer commodity prices prompting a sell-off in mining stocks.
Stocks rallied on the back of comments from the governor of the People's Bank of China, Zhou Xiaochuan, that China was willing to be more involved in resolving Europe's crisis.
"We had some comments that China was going to continue to invest in euro zone government debt, which seemed to lift sentiment across the Asian region," a CMC Markets analyst, Tim Waterer, said. However, he said that after a "hit-and-miss" week on the ASX, investors were waiting on a European Union meeting to sign off on the next tranche of aid for debt-ridden Greece.
Financial stocks were up 0.62 per cent, with the Commonwealth Bank rising 27? to $50.23. NAB closed 3? higher at $23.05, Westpac rose 6? to $20.96 and ANZ rose 1? to $21.70. CBA said first-half cash profit grew 7 per cent due to a continued fall of impairment charges on loans. The $3.57 billion cash profit was above consensus analyst forecasts.
The miners were weaker, with materials and minerals companies down about 0.4 per cent.
BHP Billiton closed down 7? at $36.10, while Rio Tinto fell 41? to $68.87.
Fortescue Metals said it had reduced its production guidance for the March quarter due to the effects of cyclone Heidi, but reported its first-half profit had more than doubled to $801 million. The miner's stock fell 8? to $5.53.
Newcrest Mining, Australia's biggest gold miner, was up 6? at $34.46.
In other news, Westfield Group said its full-year net profit had risen 40 per cent to $1.53 billion. The shares rose 44?, or 5.3 per cent, to $8.81, and were among the best-performing stocks in the top 200.
National turnover was 1.9 billion securities worth $4.6 billion.