Finance sector leads the way higher

THE sharemarket has finished higher, led by gains in the financial sector, after domestic data showed signs of a consumer recovery.

THE sharemarket has finished higher, led by gains in the financial sector, after domestic data showed signs of a consumer recovery.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index jumped 21.8 points, or 0.5 per cent, to 4738.4, while the broader All Ordinaries added 22 points, or 0.5 per cent, to 4765.

Among the sectors, consumer discretionary was up 0.8 per cent, health surged 2.3 per cent, telcos rose 1.1 per cent and financials added 0.6 per cent.

The Westpac Melbourne Institute Index of Consumer Sentiment for January rose 0.6 points, to 100.6 - a reading above 100 indicates optimists outnumber pessimists.

New car sales rose in December, up 2.2 per cent for the month and surging 17.9 per cent higher than in December 2011.

"Late last year and into this year, the economic data has been very very soft, pointing to a loss of momentum in the Aussie economy," said Suncorp Bank financial markets analyst Darryl Conroy.

"I think the market did take some heart from motor vehicle sales and consumer confidence," he said.

The big four banks were a major factor in the market's rise, all recording gains. CBA rose 0.9 per cent to $62.29, NAB 0.5 per cent to $25.85, ANZ 0.4 per cent to $25.36 and Westpac 0.3 per cent to $26.43.

The iron ore price eased 1.1 per cent, to $US152.90 a tonne, causing the materials sector to slide. BHP fell 0.8 per cent to $36.25, Rio Tinto 0.5 per cent to $65.55 and Fortescue Metals 1.5 per cent to $4.57.

"From the middle of last week [the iron ore price] began to ease and that's continued into this week. Having said that, it was a massive run-up in December and the start of this month," Mr Conroy said.

"[It was a] walloping move, which suggests Chinese buyers are back in the marketplace, which is good news for the Aussie miners," he said.

Supermarket giants Wesfarmers and Woolworths recorded gains, after a Deloitte report said Wesfarmers had joined its rival among the top 20 retailers in the world. Wesfarmers rose 0.5 per cent to $37.83 while Woolworths was also up 0.5 per cent to $30.41.

CSL led the healthcare sector and was the leading force behind the market's gains for the day. Its shares jumped 3.5 per cent to $54.21.

Construction materials company Boral was the biggest gainer for the day, surging 10 per cent to $4.80, after it said it would cut 700 jobs in a nationwide restructure of its business.

The media sector also enjoyed a broad rise. Ten Network rose 4.4 per cent to 35.5¢, Seven West Media jumped 6.1 per cent to $1.92, APN News Media added 5.5 per cent to 29¢, News Corp gained 1 per cent to $26.04 and Fairfax Media was up 0.9 per cent to 55¢.

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