Banks and gold prompt Sydney to surge

SHARES soared as National Australia Bank (NAB) rocketed to record highs, the gold sector firmed and optimism took hold ahead of the federal budget.

''The market was unusually bullish before a budget, led by banks and golds,'' said Guy Aird of Peake Lands Kirwan.

The All Ordinaries index closed up 14.4 points to 1,885.1.

Banking analysts said NAB's strong gains had followed upgradings of annual profit forecasts for the bank by several broking firms.

''Banks were stronger on a possible cut in the withholding tax [in the budget] and overseas buyers were picking up stocks,'' said one broker.

The bank index closed up 40.5 points, 1.5 per cent, at 2,645.7.

National turnover was 291.6 million shares worth A$448.6 million, with rising stocks outnumbering falling ones by three to two.

The gold marker soared 68 points to 2,148.9 following overnight bullion gains in New York. SINGAPORE THE index surged to another new record as shares made good gains across the board in the last hour of trading amid speculation that the listing of Singapore Telecom was imminent.

The Straits Times Industrial index gained 5.45 points - almost all in the last hour - to close at a new high of 1,928.34, erasing the record of 1,922.89 set only a day earlier.

The Stock Exchange of Singapore (SES) all-Singapore index gained 1.16 points to close at 487.23.

Dealers said selective blue chips had come in for good support in late afternoon trading as investors anticipated an announcement by Singapore Telecom on details of its issue.

''Many expect Singapore Telecom to be listed soon, and this aided the buying spree. Speculation about the announcement was the topic throughout the afternoon session,'' a dealer said.

Volume and value were almost unchanged at 111.8 million shares worth S$296.9 million, against Monday's turnover of 115.3 million units valued at $276.3 million. MANILA PRICES continued to climb, defying forecasts of a welcome correction, because of strong interest in selected commercial issues.

''The market is still strong,'' said Charles Ngan, trader at Abacus Securities Corp.

He said trading over the next few days would be narrow and selective. ''It will be more of consolidation with a bias towards a correction.'' Joanne Reynoso, analyst at Equitiworld Stockbrokers Inc, said: ''We still see a strong buying momentum but we're not discounting some profit-taking.''.

The Manila Stock Exchange composite index rose 12.02 points to 1,775.1 while Makati closed 6.08 points higher at 1,819.92. TAIPEI STOCKS ended mixed in slow trade with sentiment cautious as a congress of the ruling Nationalist Party was discussing controversial internal party reforms.

The weighted index fell 36 points at one stage but ended 3.56 points up at 4,122.16. No sector posted big movements.

Turnover fell to NT$12.76 billion from Monday's $17.18 billion.

Profit-taking emerged as soon as the market opened, but brokers reported cautious bargain-hunting just before the close.

Construction stocks remained firm after the central bank eased some curbs on lending to property buyers at the weekend.

''Many people are sidelined waiting for news from the party congress, so the index may not move much until the news comes out,'' said Albert Lin of Golden Securities. TOKYO STOCKS ended moderately lower on profit-taking prompted by the strong yen, which soared to 100 to 101 against the dollar in Tokyo.

But sentiment was firm, sustained by anticipation of an official discount rate cut by the Bank of Japan very soon.

''The market's undertone is firm and is in the upward trend,'' said Wataru Takemura, director at Okasan Securities. ''Investors are eager to buy in the belief that the rate cut is surely on its way.'' The Nikkei average was down 59.51 points, 0.28 per cent, at 20,841.98, with about 320 million shares traded.

The broader first section TOPIX index closed down 6.29 points, 0.37 per cent, at 1,681.75.

On the whole, the market's fall was limited by the lack of sellers. Brokers said many investors believed that interest rate cuts would take place soon.

The three-month certificate of deposit rate dropped to an historical low in the morning, strengthening their expectations.

The move reassured market participants, who expected that lower rates would prompt funds to shift to the stock market from the bond market.

But the soaring yen, which is depressing Japan's economy and domestic companies' performance, unnerved investors, encouraging them to take profits.

Turnover was about 320 million shares compared to 230 million on Monday. Declining issues outnumbered advancers by about two to one, with 648 lower, 309 higher and 199 unchanged. SEOUL STOCKS ended a jittery day lower after flitting between positive and negative ground on widespread uncertainty in the wake of last week's shock announcement banning false-name financial transactions.

''It's like a see-saw right now. Fluctuations are big. Investors just don't know what to do. There is no confidence in the market,'' said Ko Kyung-bae at Hyundai Securities.

The Seoul composite index closed 2.73 points lower at 688.94 after afternoon jitters eroded an earlier 6.29 points gain. It touched a low of 679.76, a drop of 11.91 points.

Brokers said large-capitalisation shares had tended to gain while selling had hit small and medium sized counters.

''Investors in the market right now are going for the stable large-cap shares,'' a local broker said.

Many investors fear the ban will drain liquidity from the system, further pressuring already cash-and-credit starved smaller firms. WELLINGTON ANOTHER sharp rise by Telecom spurred the New Zealand share market up 1.5 per cent at the close.

Volume was relatively light and brokers could only cite scrip shortages and generally bullish sentiment as reasons for the market's rise.

The NZSE-40 capital index ended up 28.54 at 1,893.44 on volume of about $33 million.

''It's been a very, very strong market and I really don't know why,'' said Hendry Hay McIntosh broker Jeremy Ashcroft. BANGKOK THE SET index fell 8.67 points to close at 945.62, amid light trading that saw only 109.4 million shares worth 5.9 billion bahtchanging hands.

Declines outnumbered advances by 178 to 74, with 73 issues remaining unchanged.

A broker said the market had dropped on announcements by some listed companies, especially in the agri-business sector, that they faced big declines in their second-quarter performances.

The downward trend was also linked to poorer performances by blue-chip companies such as Thai Airways International at a time when the market was already over-bought. KUALA LUMPUR SHARE prices closed higher in brisk trading, following a flurry of blue-chip buying in the afternoon.

The exchange's Composite Index rose 12.15 points to 784.91. THE Jakarta Stock Exchange was closed yesterday for Indonesia's Independence Day.

The Chinese share prices are provided by Telerate. All other prices are provided by Reuter.