US gains put life into Australian stocks

THE sharemarket ended the week on a high note after a mildly positive lead from Wall Street, with financial and mining stocks driving gains.

THE sharemarket ended the week on a high note after a mildly positive lead from Wall Street, with financial and mining stocks driving gains.

The S&P/ASX 200 Index broke through the 4300-point resistance level for the first time since early December, closing up 20.6 points, or 0.48 per cent, at 4306.8.

CommSec market analyst Juliette Saly said it was encouraging to see the market gain strength towards the close of the session.

European markets were subdued on Thursday, but Wall Street gained ground after jobless claims data signalled that the US labour market was getting back on its feet, Ms Saly said.

"That's given a little bit of positive sentiment to the market and also suggests that Wall Street is going to open higher again tonight," she said. "We've certainly seen good support coming through for financial and mining stocks today."

NAB was the strongest performer of the big four banks, gaining 31?, or 1.3 per cent, to $23.52. ANZ found 13? to $22.20, Westpac put on 12? to $20.78 and Commonwealth was up 18? at $49.70.

BHP Billiton was up 31? at $36.54 while Rio Tinto rose 58? to $68.09.

Goldminer Newcrest was weaker after saying plant reliability problems at its Lihir mine in Papua New Guinea were expected to shave March-quarter production by up to 60,000 ounces. The shares slid $1.55, or 4.3 per cent, to $34.55.

Ms Saly said casino operator Crown looked good in early trade after delivering a solid interim result, but weakened in the afternoon after James Packer said he was aiming to take Crown's holding in smaller peer Echo Entertainment above 10 per cent. Crown finished down 13? at $8.30. Echo surged 50?, or 13.2 per cent, to $4.30.

Ms Saly said energy provider AGL missed market expectations with a 51.2 per cent fall in first-half net profit to $117 million. The stock gave up 67?, or 4.7 per cent, to $13.67.

The retail sector performed well, with David Jones gaining 10?, or

3.9 per cent, to $2.65, and Kathmandu rose 4.5?, or 3 per cent, to $1.53.