Market buoyed by encouraging figures

THE sharemarket rallied to its highest level in three months yesterday, finishing up 0.85 per cent for February, after Wall Street closed at its highest in nearly four years.

THE sharemarket rallied to its highest level in three months yesterday, finishing up 0.85 per cent for February, after Wall Street closed at its highest in nearly four years.

The dollar pushed back up above $US1.08, closing at $US1.0804, as investors anticipated a strong take-up overnight of the European Central Bank's second long-term refinancing operation for the region's banks.

The S&P/ASX 200 rose 35.8 points, or 0.8 per cent, to 4298.6.

The rally means the index is up 6 per cent this year, as improved conditions in the US economy helped the Dow Jones Industrial Average break through the 13,000 barrier for the first time since May 2008.

The Australian benchmark was then trading near 6000 points, while the dollar was at US95?.

February has also seen a strong rise in the euro, which has risen from ?1.30 to ?1.34 since February 16.

On the market yesterday, every industry sector except consumer discretionaries finished positively, helped by strong gains by banks and materials stocks.

Commonwealth Bank rose 28?, or 0.6 per cent, to $49.43, as its ATM and eftpos services were brought back online after a nationwide crash. NAB gained 1.6 per cent, up 38? at $23.67. Westpac rose 1.1 per cent, up 22? at $20.90. ANZ rose 7? to $21.95.

City Index chief market analyst Peter Esho said markets in the Asia-Pacific region were quite strong.

The Australian market was boosted by favourable economic data out of Japan and South Korea, and by Australian retail sales data that showed a lift on the previous month and was in line with expectations.

"Despite a lot of companies going ex-dividend today, our market still managed to climb nearly 1 per cent that's a pretty bullish sign for our market," Mr Esho said.

The Japanese government said yesterday that Japan's factory production had risen for a second straight month, boosted by car and camera manufacturing. And figures from South Korea showed that its industrial output unexpectedly rose by 3.3 per cent in January, easing fears of an economic slowdown.

The continuing rally in the price of gold it rose $US45 an ounce in February helped Newcrest gain 18?, to $33.49, while Kingsgate firmed 1.5 per cent, up 10? at $6.86.

BHP Billiton rose 35? to $36.10, while Rio Tinto lost 25? to $67.45.

Insurer QBE gained 1.7 per cent, up 15? at $11.65, after institutional investors stumped up $450 million to replace its tier-2 convertible debt.

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