Stocks rally after four days of losses

THE sharemarket finished higher yesterday, breaking a four-day losing streak, as Europe's leaders prepared to meet in Brussels today for a crucial round of talks on the region's debt crisis.

THE sharemarket finished higher yesterday, breaking a four-day losing streak, as Europe's leaders prepared to meet in Brussels today for a crucial round of talks on the region's debt crisis.

But in a sign that investors remained uneasy, the biggest percentage gains came from the property trust, consumer staples, and telecommunication sectors the homes of defensive stocks.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index gained 29.9 points, or 0.75 per cent, to 4043.2.

Just $3.55 billion worth of shares changed hands, the thin volumes a sign that investors were expecting little to be achieved at the Brussels talks.

"Markets are waiting for nothing to happen," said UBS's Paul Donovan. "Expectations have been lowered so much that it is just possible that markets react positively to any decision. Alternatively, markets look at the broken structure of the euro and ask 'is that it?' "

The dollar closed at US100.55?, up from US100.24?, despite poor price action in Spanish and Italian bond markets on Tuesday night.

"We had terrible price action in Spanish and Italian bond markets . . . but the euro's held up, and the Australian dollar is actually a little bit higher," said senior Westpac currency strategist Sean Callow.

"The dollar's performed reasonably well given the lack of positive news flow from the eurozone."

In a further sign of troubled times in Europe, Finland sold 30-year bonds for the first time on Tuesday, a day after Cyprus became the fifth country to ask for a bailout from European authorities.

Finland, which is one of only four countries in Europe to be rated AAA by the three big rating agencies, sold ?1.5 billion of bonds after offering a yield of 2.648 per cent. The yield on the German 30-year bond is 2.33 per cent while the US long-bond yield is 2.68 per cent.

Investors cheered News Corp's plans to split its publishing assets from its more profitable entertainment business, with News shares rising 71? to $21.50.

Crown was steady at $8.58 after reports that chairman James Packer was considering a joint venture to establish a casino in the Philippines.

The big banks all moved higher. NAB rose 24? to $23.38, ANZ 24? to $21.54, Commonwealth 45? to $52.15 and Westpac 25? to $20.92.

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