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Australia shares race to 5-wk highs on strong Rio Tinto earnings, Wall St rise

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SYDNEY, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose 0.8 percent to five-week highs on Friday morning, spurred by solid earnings from index-heavyweight Rio Tinto (Xetra: 855018 - news) and a fifth rise in six sessions for Wall Street stocks.

Rio Tinto Ltd gave investors an unexpected gift, delivering a 15 percent hike in dividend after reporting a huge jump in second-half profit on Thursday, putting it in a strong position for a big capital return in 2015.

Rio rose 0.9 percent and BHP Billiton Ltd climbed 1.2 percent, while PanAust Ltd jumped 3.3 percent.

The S&P/ASX 200 index tacked on 41.3 points to 5,349.4 by 0052 GMT. The market is on course to post a 3.2 percent rise for the week, snapping five consecutive weeks of losses and marking its biggest weekly rise since December 2011.

"I think that's certainly been a factor this week that the earning results have surprised on the upside, particularly with the Telstra (Frankfurt: TSTA.F - news) dividend being increased and a substantial increase in the Rio dividend too," said Tony Russell, senior equities adviser at RBS Morgans.

"We've had strong results that's underpinning our market and also a bit of optimism coming back in the United States."

The benchmark index stumbled in January, falling 3 percent as investors sold out of equities as investors fretted over slowing growth in China and the tapering of U.S. Federal Reserve's massive stimulus.

U.S. stocks closed higher overnight, with the Nasdaq rising for a sixth straight day, as investors looked past disappointing data on consumer spending, chalking the weakness up to weather instead of weaker fundamentals. The Dow and S&P 500 rose for the fifth session in six.

Newcrest Mining Ltd slipped 0.4 percent after reporting a 36 percent drop in first-half underlying profit on Friday, though the overall mining sector was generally well supported.

Among defensives, Australia's top telecommunications provider Telstra Corporation Ltd rose percent. Blood products maker CSL Ltd (Other OTC: CMXHF - news) bounced 1.5 percent, a modest recovery from steep losses recently after its first half result was dented by the settlement of a U.S. antitrust class action.

Crown Ltd added 1.5 percent after Melco Crown (HKSE: 6883.HK - news) Entertainment , in which Crown holds a one-third stake, posted a 52.8 percent rise in full year net profit, boosted by a flood of wealth Chinese gamblers keen to punt in its glitzy casinos.

Orica Ltd gained 2.8 percent after the commercial explosives company entered into a long-term supply agreement with CF Industries Inc.

Sims Metal Management Ltd jumped 5.5 percent after the world's largest recycler returned to profitability in the first half, citing improvements in its Australian and U.S. businesses.

New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index was flat at 4,875.1.

(Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)