Australian Shares End the Week on a High

In late Friday afternoon trading, the Australian Securities Exchange, or ASX, shrugged off weaker-than-expected news out of China and was poised to end the week on a positive note, with the key S&P/ASX 200 index (INDEX: ^AXJO) up 0.9% in the last hour of trade.

Trading around 4,320, the index was at almost exactly the same level as its pre-Easter close, in a shortened four-day trading week.

Gains were widespread on the ASX, with share-price increases in almost all sectors. Only the telecom and utility sectors missed out, the former because of a weak performance from Telstra and most of the utility sector showing either losses or small gains.

The materials sector led the gains, with a 1.7% advance. Market heavyweights BHP Billiton (NYS: BHP) and Rio Tinto (NYS: RIO) were up 0.5% and 1.6%, respectively, with only three of the index components in the red.

Smaller-cap companies also contributed to the gains, with the ASX Small Ordinaries holding on to a 1% gain in late trade.

Corporate news was largely positive, with Insurance Australia Group announcing an expansion to its Malaysian business, following the lead of compatriot QBE Insurance, which has been on something of an acquisition spree in recent months, picking up business in the U.K., Asia, and South America. The market didn't seem to react particularly strongly to the news, with IAG's share price largely tracking the market.

Toll-road operator Transurban released some positive traffic numbers, which many hope will be indicative of stronger economic activity in the broader economy. Toll revenue was up 5.1%, inclusive of toll increases on some of the company's roads.

Resource companies had a good day, with Intrepid Mines leading the gains on the ASX 200, up almost 10%, while Lynas rose around 7% and Dart Energy posted gains of around 5%.

Only around 15% of the ASX 200 was showing losses on the day, led by Ardent Leisure, airline operator Virgin Australia, natural gas supplier Energy World, and contract engineering business Downer EDI, all of which were showing declines of more than 2%.

The Australian dollar fell 0.4 cents against the U.S. dollar in the wake of the slower-than-expected Chinese growth numbers, buying around US$1.04 toward the end of the Australian trading day.

Both the broad market and plenty of individual stocks have been on a roller-coaster ride over the past week, which is exactly why investors need to always stay informed about their favorite stocks. However, investors also need to recognize that daily movements won't make or break a lifetime of saving. Instead, they need to focus on their long-term saving goals.

Luckily, Motley Fool Australia has identified one stock on the Australian Securities Exchange that it thinks has all the makings of a long-term winner. Better yet, we made our research report detailing it absolutely free to our readers, so access your free copy today. In "The Motley Fool's Top ASX Stock for 2012," Investment analyst Dean Morel names his top ASX pick for 2012 ... and beyond. Click here now to find out the name of this small but growing telecommunications company. But hurry -- the report is free for only a limited time.

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