Shares ride higher on solid earnings

THE Australian sharemarket has closed higher, boosted by some positive company earnings reports and better-than-expected unemployment figures.

THE Australian sharemarket has closed higher, boosted by some positive company earnings reports and better-than-expected unemployment figures.

On Thursday, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index climbed 14.7 points, or 0.3 per cent, to 4935.7 points, while the broader All Ordinaries Index was up 15.3 points, or 0.31 per cent, at 4955.8 points.

On the ASX 24, the March share price index futures contract was 11 points higher at 4894 points, with 23,175 contracts traded.

"We saw three major companies report this morning: NAB [National Australia Bank], Telstra and News Corp," IG Markets market strategist Evan Lucas said. "NAB is really driving that market harder."

NAB is on track to post a $6 billion full-year cash profit after improving earnings in the first three months. It rose 52¢ to $28.63.

"The other thing that is driving up further is Telstra," Mr Lucas said.

Telstra gained 6¢ to $4.64 as it lifted its first-half profit and said it was on track to achieve its full-year growth targets.

News Corp fell 89¢ to $26.60 as it more than doubled first-half profit after increasing its stake in pay TV network Fox Sports.

News Corp's result was slightly ahead of expectations, Mr Lucas said, but the company had downgraded its full-year guidance.

Mr Lucas said the headline figures on unemployment released on Thursday were also better than expected but were based more on an increase in part-time jobs.

Figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed that the unemployment rate remained steady at 5.4 per cent in January. The market forecast was for the jobless rate to rise to 5.5 per cent.

Among other stocks, Virgin Australia fell 1.5¢ to 43.5¢ after the competition watchdog said it was concerned the airline's $35 million plan to buy a major stake in budget carrier Tiger Airways might compromise domestic air travel.

Tabcorp jumped 8¢ to $3.16 as it reported a 62 per cent fall in first-half net profit. But the result was skewed by the discontinuation of poker machine operations.

Whitehaven Coal dumped 17¢ at $3.02 after news the federal government had delayed its decision on whether to allow it to develop its Maules Creek mine in NSW.

Property developer Australand sagged 8¢ to $3.42 as it said it expected its investment portfolio to underpin growth in 2013, after a 28 per cent jump in full-year profits last year.

The price of gold in Sydney was $US1681.05 per fine ounce, up $US7.10 on Wednesday's closing price of $US1673.95.

National turnover was 1.69 billion securities worth $3.99 billion, with 495 stocks up, 454 down and 352 unchanged.


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