Last-hour surge caps week of solid gains

INVESTORS sprinted home in the last hour of trading yesterday to push an already positive week on the market into higher territory.

INVESTORS sprinted home in the last hour of trading yesterday to push an already positive week on the market into higher territory.

After trading only about 0.3 of a percentage point above zero, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index closed up 59.4 points, or 1.4 per cent.

It was the fifth consecutive day of rises but for much of yesterday trading was flat, with analysts saying investors appeared to be consolidating after several good confidence-restoring days.

The ASX has outperformed overseas markets, after mixed overnight leads with markets in Europe and the US mostly declining or flat after the previous day's jump.

The ASX 200 Index of the biggest 200 companies gained 7.6 per cent for the week.

The late surge reflected investors that were "underweight" in equities returning to the asset class and short traders who bet on stocks to fall covering their positions, said CMC Markets chief market strategist Michael McCarthy.

"In the absence of any other factors, which is essentially what we've got today, the natural bias is a positive one, but so many people are positioned for further market falls," he said.

The "small ordinaries", a sub-index of stocks outside the top 300, had outperformed the bigger caps, rising by 1.7 per cent, which Mr McCarthy said was a positive sign that confidence was better this week. "It does suggest people are prepared to take on more risk after the events of this week," he said.

"Obviously the smaller stocks are less liquid and harder to get out of in a problem situation, but in a good market they'll tend to outperform."

Defensive sectors such as healthcare and consumer staples kept the market ahead for much of the day and ended up 1.83 per cent and 1.93 per cent respectively.

The banks led the surge at day's end, defying a ratings downgrade by Standard & Poor's. The best performer was Westpac, up 44?, or 2.1 per cent, to $21.57.

National turnover was 2.2 billion shares worth $5.6 billion, with 577 shares up, 423 down and 366 unchanged.

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