Greek opinion polls give shares a lift

A bout of optimism returned to the sharemarket yesterday when it recorded its first positive close in four days, after a series of opinion polls suggested a pro-austerity government could soon be elected to power in Greece.

A bout of optimism returned to the sharemarket yesterday when it recorded its first positive close in four days, after a series of opinion polls suggested a pro-austerity government could soon be elected to power in Greece.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index rose 38.8 points, or 1 per cent, to 4068, while the broader All Ordinaries Index closed up 39 points, or 1 per cent, at 4120.2.

The prospect that pro-bailout conservatives could soon be governing in Greece provided a catalyst for a "risk on" trading day, with riskier sectors - resources, energy and financial stocks - performing strongly.

Fortescue Metals was the star performer, rising 24?, or 5.6 per cent, to $4.55, with help from an upgrade to a buy recommendation from Deutsche Bank, while market heavyweight BHP Billiton rose 44?, or 1.4 per cent, to $32.05. Rio Tinto rose 97?, or 1.7 per cent, to $56.90.

Woodside Petroleum led the energy sector higher, finishing up 64?, or 2 per cent, to $31.64.

National Australia Bank led the big four banks higher, rising 35? to $23.65, while Macquarie Group surged 69? to $26.52.

But defensive stocks weighed on the market - telecoms, healthcare, utilities and consumer staples all struggling.

Woolworths and Wesfarmers fell to $26.26 and $28.66. Myer Holdings rose 3? to $2, after suffering heavy falls last week.

A Lonsec analyst, Michael Heffernan, said the market had taken its lead from the better performance of European markets on Friday.

"They don't seem to believe there is going to be a catastrophe in the next couple of weeks, so I think we've taken a bit of heart from that," Mr Heffernan said.

The Australian dollar firmed slightly after losses last week, closing at US98.74?, up from US97.64? on Friday.

A senior currency strategist at the Royal Bank of Scotland, Greg Gibbs, said the dollar had settled a little after speculative currency traders on the Chicago Mutual Exchange last week pushed the currency into a rare "short" position, meaning they believed the Australian dollar would continue to lose value against the greenback.

"The last time you saw a short position was in 2008 and that suggests the market has basically got itself quite bearish on the Aussie and was due for some kind of correction, which we saw today," he said.

Hastie Group shares were suspended after it collapsed owing about $500 million, its 44 entities being placed in administration. Its shares last traded at 16?.

The administrator of the troubled engineering group said it hoped many of the 2700 employees who had been stood down would be able to return to work.

Qantas shares were up 4.5?, to $1.50, even though its budget offshoot, Jetstar, is being taken to court for allegedly allowing cabin crew recruited from Thailand to be paid about half the rate of the budget airline's Australian staff.

Fairfax Media shares gained 2?, to 64.5?, after news that mining magnate Gina Rinehart lifted her stake in the company.

Singapore Telecommunications fell 1? to $2.45, despite the competition watchdog appearing set to approve an $800 million deal in which its Australian offshoot, Optus, will move some of its customers onto the national broadband network.

Market turnover reached 1.3 billion shares worth $3.39 billion, with 530 trading up, 389 down and 370 steady.

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