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AAP

2012-11-14

The Australian market ended a four-day run of losses to close higher, driven by large financial sector stocks.

At the close on Wednesday, the benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was up 8.6 points, or 0.19 per cent, at 4,388.4, while the broader All Ordinaries index was up 6.5 points, or 0.15 per cent, at 4,410.7.

On the ASX 24, the December share price index futures contract was five points higher at 4,394, with 27,397 contracts traded.

The gains were made on mixed offshore leads, including solid gains in Europe but falls on Wall St in the US.

CMC Markets senior trader Tim Waterer said investors appeared unwilling to venture into risk assets, hence the falls in resources stocks offsetting solid gains made by Australia's major banks.

The spectre of the "fiscal cliff" in the US was capturing market attention and inhibiting the likelihood of investors to venture into risk assets, he told AAP.

"The focal point for investors at the moment is rhetoric coming from Washington regarding the fiscal cliff and that's going to be a central theme in financial markets for the rest of the year until a deal is done," he said.

The cliff refers to dramatic spending cuts and tax increases that will take effect in January, if US politicians cannot find a compromise on deficit reduction to avoid them.

Global insurer QBE was the best performer among the top 20 ASX companies, gaining 2.4 per cent to $11.18 but it recovered less than a third of Tuesday's heavy losses following an earnings downgrade.

Financial services conglomerate Suncorp added 14 cents, or 1.5 per cent, to $9.48.

The four major banks also all posted gains.

ANZ gained 15 cents to $24.20, Commonwealth Bank was 39 cents better at $59.09, Westpac jumped five cents to $24.85 and National Australia Bank improved 13 cents to $23.24.

Far more stocks lost ground on Wednesday, with 374 stocks up, 526 down and 380 unchanged and national turnover of 1.3 billion securities worth $3.32 billion.

The mining and energy sectors were down, with the majors having mixed days.

BHP Billiton lost two cents to $33.73, Rio Tinto gained 18 cents to $57.85 and Fortescue was three cents higher at $4.

Woodside Petroleum shed seven cents to $33.79 and Santos fell 27 cents, or 2.5 per cent, to $10.52, representing a 12.3 per cent fall in the last four weeks.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics wage price index for the September quarter released on Wednesday showed that total hourly rates of pay, excluding bonuses, rose by a seasonally adjusted 0.7 per cent in the September quarter.

The Westpac Melbourne Institute Index of Consumer Sentiment for November, also released on Wednesday, has risen by 5.2 per cent to 104.3 per cent showing that while confidence is improving, Australians are still pessimistic about the economy.

The price of gold in Sydney was $US1,728.23 per fine ounce, up $US2.74 on Tuesday's closing price of $US1,725.49.

Greg Roberts