By a staff reporter

The Australian stock market closed stronger, after Wall Street gained overnight on the back of upbeat earnings results and comments from Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke.

Mr Bernanke said United States economic growth had rebounded from the fourth quarter in the early part of this year.

At the 1615 AEDT official market close, the benchmark S&P/ASX200 index rose 0.66 per cent to 5036.6 points, while the broader All Ordinaries index lifted 0.62 per cent to 5033.1 points.

IG analyst Chris Weston said the market has now been above the 21-day moving average for 62 sessions, the longest for many years.

"So clearly this is a level that needs to hold if the market is going to take out the recent top of 5106.6 and print a higher high," he said.

"We are happy being bullish as long as these levels hold in the short-term."

Resources stocks gained, amid news that a Senate inquiry will examine if Labor's mining tax has contributed to a substantial shortfall in expected government revenue.

Iron ore miners BHP Billiton, Fortescue Metals and Atlas Iron have evacuated staff and locked down operations in Western Australia as wind gusts strengthen near the centre of Cyclone Rusty.

BHP Billiton gained 0.94 per cent to $36.69, Fortescue lost 0.22 per cent to $4.60 and Atlas Iron dropped 4.21 per cent to $1.48,

Rival Rio Tinto added 0.67 per cent to $66.01.

Whitehaven Coal lost 2.06 per cent to $2.85, while Newcrest Mining rose 2.03 per cent to $22.58.

AGL lifted 4.48 per cent to $15.87, after warning that its profit growth in the second half may be constrained by volatile wholesale electricity prices.

Lynas leapt 7.69 per cent to 63 cents, after the group's Malaysian rare earths plant produced its first products for sale.

In crude stocks, Woodside fell 0.39 per cent to $36.20.

Oil Search rose 2.31 per cent to $7.52 while Santos added 3.63 per cent to $13.13.

Financial stocks softened finished slightly stronger.

ANZ Banking Group gained 0.43 per cent to $28.28, while Commonwealth Bank of Australia rose 0.82 per cent to $66.01.

National Australia Bank added 0.27 per cent to $30.03 and Westpac Banking Corporation fell 0.1 per cent to $30.20.

Investment bank Macquarie Group declined 1.29 per cent to $37.53.

In the insurance sector, Insurance Australia Group added 2.68 per cent to $5.75.

QBE inclined 3.37 per cent to $13.18, while Suncorp Group dropped 0.8 per cent to $11.17.

In retail stocks, Wesfarmers rose 0.95 per cent to $40.52, while rival Woolworths gained 0.21 per cent to $34.01.

Metcash slipped 0.25 per cent to $40.3, after naming the head of a New Zealand discount retailer, Ian Morrice, as its new chief executive.

Westfield Group added 0.54 per cent to $11.14, after the group posted a lift in full-year profit but a steep decline in revenue.

David Jones advanced 1.11 per cent to $2.73, while rival Myer slipped 0.73 per cent to $2.72.

Harvey Norman fell 0.44 per cent to $2.28, while JB Hi-Fi gave up 0.24 per cent to $12.58.

In media, stocks Fairfax added 4.59 per cent to 57 cents, while rival News rose 1.23 per cent to $28.06.

Seven West fell 1.67 per cent to $2.35 while rival Ten Network was flat at 33 cents.

Blue chip Qantas declined 2.48 per cent to $1.57, while Telstra rose 0.44 per cent to $4.61.

Sydney Airport rose 1.91 per cent to $3.20 after the group swung back into profitability in the first half.

Macmahon Holdings dropped 2.94 per cent to 33 cents. The group expects to post a full-year loss of between $10 million and $20 million as the sale of its construction business to Leighton Holdings takes effect.

Leighton shares added 0.43 per cent to $23.40. Jilted takeover suitor Sembawang has indicated it may make another tilt for Macmahon.

UGL dropped 5.5 per cent to $10.30, after the engineering firm's first half profit slumped.

Slater & Gordon jumped 1.69 per cent to $2.40, after reaffirming its guidance and claiming it is on track for further expansion in the United Kingdom.

James Hardie lifted 1.6 per cent to $9.50, after trimming its earnings forecast for the year as conditions in the housing market remain uncertain. sagged 8.05 per cent to $5.37, after a deep drop in hotel bookings across Asia, Europe and the United States dragged down its earnings.

Prime Media Group rose.1.45 per cent to $1.05. The group is hoping the federal election campaign will breathe new life into the television advertising market.

PMP surged 7.5 per cent to 21.5 cents. The group plans to continue selling off assets in 2013 as it tries to recoup money lost from changes to the media landscape.

In economic news, construction work fell slightly in the December quarter, against expectations of a rise, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

Ratings agency Standard & Poor's has warned that Australia's sovereign debt rating remains under pressure despite the underlying strengths of the economy.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard believes the Australian dollar will stay high for some time but says this shouldn't stop the nation from having a viable manufacturing sector.

The local market closed the previous session lower but pared back earlier heavy falls.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index closed down 52.2 points, or 1.03 per cent, at 5,003.6 points.

The broader All Ordinaries index had fallen 50.9 points, or 1.0 per cent, to 5,021.8 points.

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