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Traders wary but stocks edge higher

STOCKS closed firmer after overnight gains on Wall Street but trading volumes were low as investors kept to the sidelines amid continuing anxiety about euro-zone debt.

STOCKS closed firmer after overnight gains on Wall Street but trading volumes were low as investors kept to the sidelines amid continuing anxiety about euro-zone debt.

The S&P/ASX 200 Index rose 20.4 points, or 0.48 per cent, to 4293.8.

IG Markets market strategist Stan Shamu said the gains were made

despite data showing Australia's trade surplus had narrowed in September to

$2.564 billion, from

$2.953 billion the month before.

Mr Shamu said events in Italy and Greece were firmly in focus as both nations looked to a change in political leadership.

Yields on 10-year Italian government bonds have ballooned to unsustainable levels and speculation mounted that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi would buckle to pressure to stand down.

In Greece, official confirmation of a replacement for Prime Minister George Papandreou was expected last night.

"With all this uncertainty persisting, we are likely to see gold continue to be in focus after last night's gains," Mr Shamu said.

Gold maintained its rally, with the spot price up $US22.45 at $US1792.63 an ounce at the end of the Australian session.

Australia's biggest goldminer, Newcrest, rose 34? to $36.06 after the company announced it would issue $US1 billion in 10-year and 30-year bonds to repay existing debt and fund major projects.

Thailand-focused goldminer Kingsgate was up 5? at $6.95 after increasing its interest in Chile-focused gold explorer Laguna Resources to 83.52 per cent, from 69.9 per cent.

Among the banks, shares in Commonwealth Bank gained 36? to $49.68 after it told shareholders at the annual meeting it expected subdued credit growth to continue into next year.

The other three big banks were also stronger, with ANZ rising 39? to $21.58, National Australia Bank 25? to $25.43 and Westpac 17? to $21.28.

Shopping centre owner Westfield Group rose 13? to $7.85 after it confirmed full-year financial guidance and said its business was in solid shape after a mixed sales performance in the September quarter.

Shares in Carbon Conscious, which operates forestry plantation projects for carbon offset credits, received a slight boost after the federal government's controversial carbon tax was passed in Parliament. The stock closed up 1?, or 2.6 per cent, at 40?.

National turnover was 1.48 billion securities worth $3.82 billion, with 540 stocks up, 429 down and 383 steady.


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