Jobless rate fails to frighten off investors

THE fear that kept investors clear of the market only two days ago seemed to disappear yesterday, despite a rise in unemployment, as market-watchers thought it increasingly unlikely Greece would soon default on its debt.

THE fear that kept investors clear of the market only two days ago seemed to disappear yesterday, despite a rise in unemployment, as market-watchers thought it increasingly unlikely Greece would soon default on its debt.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index was up 27.3 points, or 0.66 per cent, at 4171.

Unemployment crept up to 5.2 per cent last month, from 5.1 per cent in January, according to figures from the Bureau of Statistics.

No new full-time jobs were created during the month, but 15,400 part-time jobs were lost.

The rise in unemployment largely met expectations, and investors took the news in their stride, particularly after the US jobs market added 216,000 private sector jobs last month.

That figure helped the US sharemarket close 0.7 per cent higher, which fed through to the local market yesterday morning, helping it bounce back from three consecutive days of losses.

But economists said the rise in Australian unemployment helped to mask a fairly big shift in the labour market.

"The [figure is] very unusual, because the national jobs market has been generally flat over the year," Commonwealth Bank senior economist Michael Workman said.

"Again, it's the mining versus the 'other states' divide. The full-time jobs trend is really in line with this pattern that people expected to see, where the resource states are likely to continue to have a net job gain and the states highly exposed to the high currency, where manufacturing sits, get the job losses."

Energy and materials stocks performed strongest on a day when eight out of 12 industry sectors made gains.

Oil and gas major Santos was the top performer among the ASX 50 companies, with a 54?, or 4 per cent, rise to $14.14.

Fortescue Metals Group was the next best, rising 20?, or 3.8 per cent, to $5.51, while market heavyweight BHP Billiton gained 25? to $34.30, and rival Rio Tinto added 24? to $62.66. The big banks all made gains. National Australia Bank rose 31?, or 1.3 per cent, to $23.38, CBA climbed 38? to $48.04, Westpac was up 11? at $20.41 and ANZ gained 4? to $21.79.

The price of brent crude finished up slightly, at $US124.21 a barrel, continuing its recent upward trend. In a little more than six weeks, the price has increased 13 per cent.

The head of fixed income at Tyndall Investments, Roger Bridges, said the price was being driven by stronger demand for oil, and problems with supply, particularly in the Strait of Hormuz. With AAP

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