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Australia: Shares jump as investors swoop on sell-off bargains

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[SYDNEY] Australian shares surged on Tuesday, shaking off declines in offshore equities and commodities markets, as investors took advantage of cheap stocks following months of selling.

Banks led the gains as investors took advantage of dividend yields which have been improved by lower prices after months of heavy selling amid tough new capital rules.

Miner BHP Billiton rallied nearly 3 per cent, partly recovering the previous day's losses after Brazil said it would sue for US$5.2 billion over the bursting of a dam.

The S&P/ASX 200 index was up 1.8 per cent or 91.0 points at 5,257.5 by 0126 GMT, its biggest single-day rise since Nov 19.

Even with that gain, the benchmark is down nearly 3 percent so far this year. "There's clearly some selling that's abated," said Andrew Ward, a senior portfolio manager at Aurora Funds Management Ltd. "It fell off towards the end of last week when a lot people imagined it would stay steady and it's taken us a bit by surprise, the extent (of the rally) today."

Other resources stocks also rose after official data showed a rise in exports in the third quarter. Rio Tinto was up 1.5 per cent while gold producer Newcrest Mining rose 1.6 per cent.

Energy stocks defied a decline in the oil price and rose, albeit less than the broader market in some cases, with Woodside Petroleum up 2 per cent, Oil Search up 0.5 per cent and Santos 0.6 per cent better.

All the so-called "Big Four" banks were higher, with Australia and New Zealand Banking Group up 2.5 per cent, Commonwealth Bank of Australia up 2 per cent, National Australia Bank 1.9 per cent firmer and Westpac Banking Corp 1.3 per cent higher.

The biggest gainers were law firm Slater and Gordon and electronics retailer Dick Smith Holdings, up 23 per cent and 18 per cent respectively, as the stocks bounced from ferocious selling in previous sessions on profit fears.

New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index rose 0.6 per cent or 33.6 points to 6,133.8.

Air New Zealand was among the biggest gainers, rising 1.8 per cent admidst positive investor sentiment as the airline began flying its new service to Argentina.

Meridian Energy rose 1.5 per cent and Stride Property was up 1.4 per cent.

Infratil rose 0.7 per cent after the infrastructure company sold billboard advertising firm Isite.

Accounting software company Xero rose 0.5 per cent, recovering from five consecutive sessions of losses after directors sold shares in the company.

Telecommunications company Spark NZ fell 1.7 per cent as investors took profit after two days of gains.

REUTERS