(Adds details, comments, stocks on the move)
SYDNEY, March 5 (Reuters) - Australian stocks rallied 1.5
percent in late morning trade on Tuesday, with financial stocks
leading the gains ahead of an interest rate decision by the
central bank, while retail stocks rallied as data showed
consumer spending ticked up in January.
The outcome of the Reserve Bank of Australia(RBA)'s March
meeting will be announced at 0330 GMT, with nearly all
economists in a Reuters poll forecasting no change to a
record-low 3 percent cash rate.
With a cut unlikely, investors would be keen to see the
RBA's comments in its accompanying statement, analysts said.
"The market is looking for some more reassuring signs for
the Australian economy, whether that's the sign it could bottom
out, or that's the central bank continuing to talk
equity strategist Damien Boey.
at 0054 GMT. The benchmark fell 1.5 percent on Monday to its
lowest close since Feb. 26.
Financial stocks led the rally, with the country's biggest
percent, while Westpac Banking Corp jumped 2.7 percent.
Data released on Tuesday showed retail sales for January
rose a bigger-than-expected 0.9 percent from the previous month.
Retail stocks rallied on the back of the data, as top
supermarket chain Woolworths Ltd rose almost 3.0
percent and department store Myer Holdings Ltd advanced
Miners retreated despite a rebound in metal prices. BHP
Billiton Ltd inched down 0.1 percent and Fortescue
pared earlier losses and edged up 0.4 percent.
Investors were concerned about China's new curbs on housing
prices, which would likely cap demand for steel and raw
materials, Boey said.
"Any curbs there will be bad news," he said. "Historically
the best thing to look at for steel production is to look at
what's happening to China's house prices."
Defensive stocks had a better run, with Australia's flagship
phone company Telstra Corp Ltd adding 1.3 percent.
New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index rose 0.2
percent to 4,262.7.
STOCKS ON THE MOVE
* Coal seam gas producer Westside Corp Ltd soared
6.7 percent to A$0.32, after it said it continued to talk with
its bidder and that the board decided to conclude the process in
the near term.
A$0.64, its biggest one-day percentage gain in five weeks, after
it said it had won a $682 million contract to two more of its
aluminum-hulled, trimaran design LCS ships for the U.S. navy.
(Reporting by Maggie Lu Yueyang; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)