Strong banks help market close higher

Shares closed the week higher, with a strong performance by local banks on Friday, and as investors looked ahead to next week's US Federal Reserve board meeting, with suggestions the Fed might lower its 6.5 per cent threshold for unemployment and change its inflation target.

Shares closed the week higher, with a strong performance by local banks on Friday, and as investors looked ahead to next week's US Federal Reserve board meeting, with suggestions the Fed might lower its 6.5 per cent threshold for unemployment and change its inflation target.

For the week, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 rose 70 points, or 1.4 per cent, at 5042 points, while the broader All Ordinaries rose 64.4 points, or 1.3 per cent, at 5042 points.

The ASX 200 is now 5.1 per cent higher over July, with markets pricing in another rate cut.

Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens will be speaking in Sydney on Tuesday, to the Anika Foundation, but economists are doubtful he will give many clues about rate movements.

"We believe it is unlikely that there will be any comment in the speech on current monetary policy decisions, especially so close to the August 6 RBA board meeting," Commonwealth Bank economist Michael Workman said.

But eyes will be on the US next week, where economic data will be released, including home sales and prices, consumer confidence, and second quarter gross domestic product figures.

For the week, Rio Tinto rose $1.01, or 1.8 per cent, at $57.24, and BHP Billiton climbed 74¢, or 2.2 per cent, at $34.60, after the miner said they would spend $3.26 billion to build a new seawater desalination plant at the Escondida mine in Chile.

But Fortescue Metals slipped 11¢, or 2.96 per cent, at $3.61, even though the iron ore miner said it was optimistic Chinese demand for steel would remain strong enough to keep the iron ore price well above $US100 ($108) a tonne.

Atlas Iron fell 2.5¢, or 2.9 per cent, at 85¢. The firm increased shipping volumes 16 per cent during the June quarter and expects to lift production further this financial year.

McMillan Shakespeare plummeted $5.56, or 36.2 per cent, at $9.80, after the finance group said the Rudd government's flagged changes to fringe benefit tax laws had created too much uncertainty.

Billabong International fell 1.5¢, or 3.8 per cent, to 38.5¢. The struggling surfwear retailer sold another of its brands and completed a $325 million bridging loan in order to pay off looming debts.

Incitec Pivot fell 7¢, or 2.5 per cent, at $2.70, after the explosives and fertiliser maker said it would take a $23 million hit as a result of the temporary closure of a Queensland ammonia plant.

Newcrest Mining rose $1.29, or 11.6 per cent, at $12.41, after the goldminer's production in the 2012-13 financial year met its lowered forecasts, with the company saying it expected an improvement in 2013-14.

Phosphagenics rose 0.5¢, or 4.6 per cent, to 11.5¢, after the company said its former chief executive was one of several employees who allegedly cheated the company of $5.7 million.

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