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Aust stocks close higher on pre-Xmas sentiment

By Trevor Chappell
24 Dec 2008 3:16 PM

MELBOURNE, Dec 24 AAP - The Australian share market closed stronger in thin pre-Christmas following a rebound in major resources stocks.

The key indices were more than one per cent higher despite a weaker performance on Wall Street, as the local equities market prepared for a four-day trading break.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was up 50.8 points, or 1.44 per cent, to 3,582.2 while the broader All Ordinaries index gained 46.8 points, or 1.35 per cent, to 3,515.0.

On the Sydney Futures Exchange, the March share price index futures contract was 67 points lower at 3,583 on a volume of 14,311 contracts.

The stock market will not trade again until Monday, December 29.

CMC Markets corporate dealer Andrew Knight said the Australian market's upwards move on Wednesday was surprising given that US markets were lower overnight and pre-Christmas trading locally was typically thin.

"The banks on the whole are seeing a bit of buoyancy coming in, but there's no volume behind it," he said.

"The consumer staples (stocks) and the telcos seem to be standing out at the moment.

"Apart from that, it does seem to be driven by a bit of sentiment coming into the market after two down days this week."

In the resources sector, global miner BHP Billiton was up 35 cents to $28.84, while Rio Tinto added $1.22 to $36.59.

Oil and gas producer Woodside Petroleum improved 74 cents to $32.90 and Santos stepped forward 32 cents to $14.16.

AGL Energy was off 18 cents at $15.27 as it made a $171 million takeover offer for coal seam gas (CSG) producer Sydney Gas.

Sydney Gas was up 15 cents, or 54.55 per cent, to 42.5 cents.

Among the major banks, National Australia Bank ascended 51 cents to $20.11, Westpac rose 24 cents to $16.50, and ANZ was steady at $14.87.

Commonwealth Bank rose 11 cents to $27.15 as it said it would acquire up to $4 billion of mortgages originated by Wizard Home Loans.

In the retail sector, Wesfarmers, which owns Coles, was up 72 cents at $16.92 and Woolworths jumped 67 cents to $26.40.

The peak retail industry body, the Retailers' Association, said on Wednesday that pre-Christmas sales were up on last year's record by four per cent.

Telco Telstra was six cents richer at $3.73 and Optus-owner Singapore Telecommunications found three cents at $2.62.

In the media sector, News Corp hovered at $13.15 and its non-voting stock retreated six cents to $12.18.

Consolidated Media shed two cents to $1.85 and Fairfax Media was up 1.5 cents at $1.565.

Among gold stocks, Newmont was steady at $5.48, Newcrest dumped 64 cents at $31.78, and Lihir gave away four cents at $2.81.

The price of gold in Sydney at 1449 AEDT was $US838.95 per fine ounce, down $US5.55 on yesterday's close of $US844.50.

Among other stocks, real estate investor and developer Goodman Group nudged up one cent to 70 cents as it completed capital management initiatives worth $1.2 billion.

Babcock & Brown Infrastructure improved 1.4 cents to 8.9 cents as it agreed to sell new shares in its Euroports business to two investors, totalling a 29.7 per cent stake in the business.

The top traded stock by volume was Macquarie Office Trust, with 35.2 million shares worth $10.3 million changing hands.

National turnover was 587.3 million shares worth $1.32 billion, with 459 stocks up, 282 down and 257 unchanged.

On Wall Street overnight, the Dow Jones Industrial Average index lost 100.28 points, or 1.18 per cent, to 8,419.49 stocks in thin trading as US growth and housing data showed that the US economy continued to struggle.