The stock market in Australia ended higher on Thursday tracking the U.S. markets, where all the indices advanced for the second day in succession on unexpected positive economic data. A smaller-than-expected decline in construction spending for February, an increase in the index of pending home sales for February and a higher-than-expected manufacturing sector index of the ISM for March, more than offset the bigger-than-expected decline in non-farm private employment for March. U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's comments that the global markets are responding positively to the stimulus packages also lifted the market sentiment.

On Wednesday, the Dow closed up 153 points or 2.01% at 7,762, the Nasdaq gained 23 points or 1.51% to 1,552, and the S&P 500 added 13 points or 1.66% to finish at 811.

In Asian trading, crude gained moderately in electronic trading. Light sweet crude for May delivery closed at $48.39 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange on Wednesday, down $1.27 a barrel, after hitting an intraday high of $48.96 and a low of $47.26, after an Energy Information Administration data revealed a build in crude oil stockpiles from last week.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index advanced 2.81% or 100.2 points to 3,680, and the broader All Ordinaries index gained 2.7% or 95 points, to 3,622.

On the economic front, the Australian Bureau of Statistics data showed that Australia posted a better-than-expected trade surplus of A$2.11 billion on a seasonally adjusted basis in February. Exports jumped 4% from the previous month, while imports were down 1% on month.

Financial stocks advanced on Geithner's comments. National Australia Bank advanced 5.51%, ANZ Banking Group moved up 2.71%, Commonwealth Bank of Australia rose 1.85% and Westpac Banking gained 2.73%. Investment bank Macquarie Group surged up 6.02%.

In the resources sector, index leader BHP Billiton gained 3.58% and Rio Tinto advanced 4.78%. The second largest steel maker in the country, OneSteel soared 8.45% following a brokerage upgrade of the stock. Scrap-metal recycling company Sims Metal Management rose 6.61%.

Gold miners advanced after gold closed modestly higher for a second straight session on Wednesday. Lihir Gold moved up 0.90%, Sino Gold added 3.58%, and Newcrest Mining gained 2.22%.

Energy stocks ended mixed. While Woodside added 1.82%, Oil Search lost 1.92%, and Santos declined 1.68%.

Media-related stocks also advanced. Consolidated Media added 4.33% and Fairfax gained 0.95%. News Corp. shares soared 6.52%.

In the retail sector, David Jones advanced 1.78%, Woolworths moved up 0.78%, and Coles' owner Wesfarmers gained 3.14%.

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