The New Zealand sharemarket continued to gather steam during the day as blue chip construction and building supplies stock Fletcher Building hit a nearly five-month high in the wake of the Canterbury earthquake.

Fletcher Building shares closed up 12c, or 1.4 per cent, at 848. That was their highest closing level since late April and on top of an 11c gain yesterday.

The stock has recovered sharply from a one-year-low of 716 in mid-August, boosted in part by expectation of heavy demand in Canterbury as the region rebuilds from the devastating earthquake on September 4.

After an early rise, the benchmark NZX-50 index closed up 19.05 points, or 0.6 per cent, at 3197.52, having gained nearly 18 points yesterday.

Among the top stocks, Telecom was down a cent at 206, Contact Energy gained a cent to 575, Auckland Airport was up a cent at 208, Sky TV was up 2c at 520, and Infratil was a cent higher at 175.

Freight forwarder Mainfreight jumped to a two-year high of 724, up 24c or 3 per cent. The company's trucks have been busy moving freight between Blenheim and Christchurch as State Highway 1 and the railway are blocked by a massive slip near Kaikoura.

Freightways was up 4c at 308, a day before going ex-dividend.

Some of the second-tier stocks posted reasonable gains, with carpetmaker Cavalier up 11c at 285, clothing retailer Hallenstein Glasson up 7c at 395, and high-tech manufacturer Rakon, up 6c at 120.

Pike River Coal was up 3c at 109 after news its general mine manager Peter Whittall had been appointed chief executive, starting next month.

Among the fallers, Restaurant Brands was down a cent at 243, The Warehouse lost 2c to 373 and Abano Healthcare fell 5c to 525.

Across the Tasman, the S&P/ASX 200 Index was up 0.2 per cent at 4622.

Earlier in the United States, stocks advanced to their highest levels in five weeks, taking the S&P 500 index near the top of its summer range on upbeat Chinese factory data and new global banking rules.

- NZPA