Surge in bank shares keeps local market ahead of the region

The sharemarket finished higher, driven by strong gains among the big banks, as the share price of Australia's biggest lender, Commonwealth Bank, surged to a record high.

The sharemarket finished higher, driven by strong gains among the big banks, as the share price of Australia's biggest lender, Commonwealth Bank, surged to a record high.

Closing on Thursday, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index was 16.8 points, or 0.31 per cent, higher at 5372.9. The broader All Ordinaries was up 16.9 points at 5373.7.

IG analyst Stan Shamu said the market outperformed the region following falls in China and Japan.

"The banks have really driven the gains for the day," Mr Shamu said. "The rest of the sectors had very mixed performances."

Investors appeared to be optimistic before the release of ANZ and National Australia Bank's full-year results next week. "Potentially, investors will receive better dividends than they did before."

CBA added 97¢, or 1.3 per cent, to $75.58, as Westpac gained 31¢ to $34.18, ANZ rose 40¢ to $32.37 and NAB jumped 12¢ to $35.59.

The big miners were mixed as commodity prices dipped and China's lenders reportedly wrote off about $US3.7 billion ($3.83 billion) in bad debt for the first six months of 2013, leading to a spike in Chinese interbank lending rates.

BHP Billiton, the world's biggest miner, lost 15¢ to $37.35 after three days of gains. Fortescue Metals fell 5¢ to $5.30 while goldminer Newcrest shed 18¢ to $10.91.

After a lacklustre start Rio Tinto gained 20¢ to $63.85.

Meanwhile, Wesfarmers lost 8¢ to $41.92 even though its Coles supermarket chain and liquor stores sold $6.9 million worth of goods during the September quarter, an increase of more than 4 per cent.

The Australian dollar was steady at about US96.65¢.

Bond futures prices were mixed after a quiet day of trade, despite the release of strong Chinese data showing manufacturing expanding at its strongest pace in seven months in October. HSBC's preliminary purchasing managers' index for this month hit 50.9, a significant improvement from September's 50.2 and the highest since March.

Westpac interest rate strategist Tim Jung said the market shrugged off the data to consolidate following a busy week. "The main event that the market was really waiting for was the PMI which did come in slightly ahead of expectations. The market has really just shrugged it off."

The December 10-year bond futures contract was unchanged at 96.050 (implying a yield of 3.950 per cent). The three-year contract was at 96.950 (3.050 per cent), from 96.960 (3.040 per cent).

AAP

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