Late-rallying finance stocks a breath of life

THE sharemarket closed slightly higher yesterday, with financial sector stocks dragging it across the line in a late rally.

THE sharemarket closed slightly higher yesterday, with financial sector stocks dragging it across the line in a late rally.

The S&P/ASX 200 Index closed up 10.6 points, or 0.25 per cent, at 4253.4 while the broader All Ordinaries Index rose 8.5 points, or 0.2 per cent, to close at 4327.4.

Stocks opened stronger, buoyed by good results from Commonwealth Bank, the nation's largest lender, before turning negative as softer commodity prices prompted a selloff in mining stocks.

The market then rallied after comments from People's Bank of China governor Zhou Xiaochuan that China was willing to be more involved in resolving Europe's crisis.

"We had some comments that China was going to continue to invest in euro-zone government debt, which seemed to lift sentiment across the Asian region," said CMC Markets analyst Tim Waterer.

However, he said that after a "hit and miss" week on the ASX, investors were waiting for a European Union meeting to sign off on the next tranche of aid for debt-ridden Greece.

They also had an eye to Australian employment figures due out today.

Financial stocks were up 0.62 per cent, with Commonwealth Bank advancing 27? to $50.23.

National Australia Bank closed 3? higher at $23.05, Westpac gained 6? to $20.96 and ANZ firmed 1? to $21.70.

CBA said first-half cash profit grew 7 per cent due to a continued fall of impairment charges on loans. The $3.576 billion cash profit result was above consensus analyst forecasts of $3.529 billion.

The miners were weaker, with the materials and minerals sectors down about 0.4 per cent.

BHP closed down 7? at $36.10 while Rio Tinto slipped 41? to $68.87.

Fortescue Metals Group said it was reducing its production guidance for the March quarter due to the impact of cyclone Heidi, but reported that first-half profit had more than doubled to $801 million. The stock closed 8? down at $5.53.

The spot price of gold in Sydney finished at $US1727.45 an ounce, up $US10.20 from Monday's closing price of $US1717.25.

Newcrest Mining, Australia's biggest goldminer, was up 6? at $34.46.

Westfield Group said full-year net profit rose 40 per cent to $1.532 billion. Its shares put on 44?, or 5.3 per cent, to $8.81, putting it among the three best-performing stocks on the S&P/ASX 200.

National turnover was 1.9 billion securities worth $4.6 billion, with 440 securities trading up, 527 down and 393 unchanged.

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