Chinese data buoys traders

THE Australian sharemarket and dollar have been boosted by better-than-expected trade data from China, as the country's exports grew 14.1 per cent in December from a year earlier.

THE Australian sharemarket and dollar have been boosted by better-than-expected trade data from China, as the country's exports grew 14.1 per cent in December from a year earlier.

The S&P/ASX 200 Index closed 14.9 points higher at 4723 after falling at midday, while the All Ordinaries finished slightly up at 4745.2.

"It's a positive sign that the Chinese economy is continuing to recover, particularly the strength we saw in the import numbers," HSBC chief economist Paul Bloxham said. "That bodes well for the Australian economy.

"They are our major trading partner and we're seeing the recovery in China reflected in commodity prices already, particularly the iron ore price, which has risen very sharply in the past few weeks, and that supports Australian income growth."

China's trade surplus surged 48.1 per cent to $231.1 billion in 2012 from the previous year, although trade volume grew at a much slower pace, official data released on Thursday showed.

Exports from the world's second-largest economy rose 7.9 per cent to $US2.05 trillion, while imports increased 4.3 per cent to $US1.82 trillion, the national customs bureau said.

The Australian dollar rose as high as US105.55¢, while the further weakening of the Japanese yen saw the dollar surge to a 4-year peak of just above 93 yen.

"The Australian dollar exploded higher after the Chinese data [release] . . . it's pretty clear there's a recovery going on in east Asian trade and that's pretty positive for Australia and Australian exports, so that's underpinned the move in the exchange rate," ANZ currency strategist Andrew Salter said.

He said the faltering yen reflected the Japanese government's indications that it would embark on policies to weaken the currency.

The market did not react to data released by the Bureau of Statistics on Thursday that showed a 2.9 per cent rise in building approvals for November in seasonally adjusted terms, just below market expectations of 3 per cent. Private-sector housing approvals fell 0.3 per cent for the same month.

The big four banks all registered gains on Thursday.

ANZ closed 0.52 per cent higher at $25.15, while Commonwealth Bank edged up to $61.61 and NAB to $25.43.

The miners closed mixed, as data from China, the world's biggest iron ore buyer, showed it increased imports by 8.4 per cent to a record last year.

Rio Tinto closed almost 30¢ higher at $67.10, as Fortescue lifted 11¢ to $4.85. BHP fell by 17¢ to $37.41.

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