Australian markets

The Australian stock market closed higher on Friday on stronger international oil prices and as investors looked past overseas negatives to forthcoming economic data from the United States.

At the close, the benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was 23.9 points, or 0.49 per cent, higher at 4,861.8 points, while the broader All Ordinaries index had risen 26.0 points, or 0.53 per cent, to 4,954.6 points. On the ASX 24, the June share price index futures contract was 18 points higher at 4,883, with 29,470 contracts traded.

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Oil prices also surged internationally and on the Australian bourse on Friday, in the resources sector, oil and gas producer Woodside Petroleum rose 60 cents to $47.40 as investors continued to weigh up rumours of a takeover by BHP Billiton.

Analysts are divided on the probability of a takeover. BHP Billiton was 12 cents richer at $46.68, while Rio Tinto gained 10 cents to $84.85. Among the major banks, ANZ improved six cents to $23.87, National Australia Bank lifted 13 cents to $25.98, Westpac found eight cents at $24.41, and Commonwealth Bank advanced 34 cents to $52.74. Ports and rail operator Asciano nudged up one cent to $1.75 as it priced $US1 billion of senior guaranteed notes and said it would use the proceeds to prepay bank facilities due to mature in May 2012. In the media sector, Austar United Communications was up 4.5 cents at $1.36 after it said no agreement had been reached with Foxtel on a price the latter is willing to pay to buy the regional pay-tv operator.

Biotech Biota Holdings surged 37.5 cents, or 35.71 per cent, to $1.425 after its US subsidiary won a five-year $US231 million contract from the US government to develop a long acting, single dose flu drug for sale in the US.

Commercial real estate investor Growthpoint Properties Australia firmed five cents to $1.90 as it confirmed it is in talks with Rabinov Property Trust about a possible transaction. Rabinov last traded at 70 cents. Preliminary national turnover was 3.07 billion securities worth $4.83 billion, with 621 stocks up, 489 down and 416 unchanged.
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The Australian dollar remained buoyant Friday around its highest levels in close to 30 years, but signs of strain emerged as more analysts began to forecast an end to its stellar rally. The first headwind could emerge in New York trading late as global markets await U.S. payrolls data, which is tipped to show strength in job creation, fanning the view that a recovery in the world's largest economy is gaining traction. Confirmation of an improved U.S. job market is expected to strengthen calls for the U.S.

Federal Reserve to take steps toward winding back quantitative easing, a decision which is widely expected to spur gains in the U.S. dollar. Economists in a Dow Jones Newswires survey expect the report to show U.S. employers added 195,000 new jobs in March, following 192,000 new hires in February.

The unemployment rate is forecast to stay unchanged at 8.9%. The Australian dollar was changing hands at $1.0348, up from $1.0330 late Thursday, but off its post-float high of $1.0373 hit in Thursday's N.Y. action. Against the yen, the unit traded at 86.485, compared with 85.475.

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