SYDNEY: Australian shares remained at near 17-month highs on Thursday, following losses on Wall St overnight, amid high volume due to the expiry of December ASX SPI 200 derivatives contracts.
Wall St fell on Wednesday as confidence waned that a deal could be struck soon to avoid the "fiscal cliff".
The expiry of the December quarter SPI 200 futures and options and December equity options and index options on Friday boosted volumes as investors traded off before the option became worthless.
"It generally means the level of turnover and the level of transaction is about twice as much as it has been so that's the way it's shaping up right now," said Michael Heffernan, senior client adviser and economist at Lonsec.
Heffernan said the local market was still being driven largely by events in the US and Europe.
The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index was up 0.08 points at 4,621.7 at 0107 GMT. It climbed 0.5 percent on Wednesday to its highest close since July 8, 2011.
"We could finish the year at 4,700 points it the way I see it," Heffernan said. "Things are looking okay."
Banks were mixed with Australia New Zealand Banking Corp and Westpac Banking Corp both gaining 0.3 percent and 0.2 percent respectively. Commonwealth Bank of Australia and National Australia Bank slipped 0.3 percent and 0.2 percent.
Miners were weak with BHP Billiton Ltd losing 0.3 percent while rival Rio Tinto Ltd dropped 1 percent.
Energy shares were also down with Woodside Petroleum losing 1.4 percent while Santos plumbed 1.7 percent.
Defensives were strong, with blood products maker CSL Ltd jumping 1.2 percent and diversified retailer Wesfarmers rising 0.4 percent.
New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index rose 0.7 percent to 4,050.9.
Center>Copyright Reuters, 2012