SYDNEY- The Australian share market closed slightly higher on Wednesday after a positive reaction to Westpac's earnings result, a strong performance by gold stocks and some encouraging economic data.

At 1615 AEDT the benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was up 8.6 points, or 0.19 per cent at 4540.1, while the broader All Ordinaries index advanced 7.6 points, or 0.17 per cent, to 4547.6.

On the Sydney Futures Exchange at 1616 AEDT, the December share price index contract was up 15 points at 4,533 on a volume of 24,305 contracts.

The Australian market opened firmer but dipped into negative territory during afternoon trade before edging higher towards the close.

Westpac reported a 10.7 per cent decline in full year profit for the year to September 30, but the bank said its business has strong momentum going into fiscal 2010 as the bad debt cycle stabilised.

Its shares closed up 36 cents, or 1.42 per cent, to $25.79

Commonwealth Bank ended nine cents higher at $51.37, ANZ gained 15 cents to $22.73 and Macquarie Group was up $1.02 cents, or 2.17 per cent, at $48.09.

NAB closed down 24 cents, or 0.85 per cent, at $28.15.

Austock Securities senior client adviser Michael Heffernan said the Westpac result supported the broader market.

"The positive influences on the market was the result we had from Westpac Bank, which wouldn't set your ears back but it exceeded most expectations," Mr Heffernan said.

Mr Heffernan described Westpac's result, as "workmanlike", similar to the results from NAB and ANZ last week but very good compared with counterparts overseas.

"When you look at the banks here, not only are they making profits - in the US and the rest of the world they are making losses - not only that they are paying dividends and very strong ones at that," Mr Heffernan said.

"They've performed very well indeed in this very difficult environment."

At 1622 AEDT, the spot price of gold in Sydney was US$1,083.60 per fine ounce, up US$19.63 on Tuesday's closing price of US$1,063.97.

Gold stocks ended higher.

Lihir Gold was up 14 cents, or 4.42 per cent, at $3.31, while Newcrest Mining increased $1.07, or 3.21 per cent, to $34.45.

"Gold is certainly the flavour of the day," Mr Heffernan said.

"Kingsgate Consolidated and AngloGold were two of the biggest movers on the market today."

AngloGold gained 70 cents, or 8.32 per cent, to $9.11, while Kingsgate was 79 cents, or 10.39 per cent, higher at $8.39.

Mr Heffernan said the building approvals and retail sales data also gave the market some support.

"Building approvals are going almost gangbusters at the moment and even retail sales, when you look at it on a trend basis, which is good indication for the longer term, is relatively strong," Mr Heffernan said.

Building approvals rose 2.7 per cent in September, while retail sales were down 0.2 per cent in the month on a seasonally adjusted basis.

Among resource stocks, Australia's two big miners finished in positive territory.

BHP Billiton closed up 20 cents, or 0.54 per cent, at $36.94, while Rio Tinto ended up 62 cents, or 0.99 per cent, at $63.43.

The local market also shrugged off a weak lead from Wall Street, with the two major indices finishing slightly lower on Tuesday.

Print media stocks performed strongly. Fairfax Media rose five cents, or 3.24 per cent, to $1.595 and West Australian Newspapers jumped 49 cents, or 6.52 per cent, to $8.00.

WAN said the circulation of its flagship newspaper The West Australian rose for the second straight quarter in September and was on track to deliver a third consecutive quarter of year-on-year growth.

News Corporation gained 20 cents, or 1.34 per cent, to $15.15, while News Corporation non-voting stock were up nine cents to $12.91.

News Corporation is due to report its earnings results for the first quarter of 2009/10 at 0800 AEDT on Thursday.

The most-traded stock by volume was Laguna Resources, with 93.7 million shares worth $2.51 million changing hands.

Shares in the oil and gas exploration company fell 0.5 cents, or 18.52 per cent, to 2.2 cents.

Preliminary market turnover was 2.42 billion shares worth $4.75 billion, with 504 stocks up, 533 down and 319 unchanged.

- AAP