MELBOURNE, Jan 10 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose 0.3 percent on Thursday, revived by much stronger-than-expected Chinese trade data which signalled economic strength in Australia's largest customer.
Rio Tinto Ltd rose 0.4 percent to A$67.10 and Fortescue Metals advanced 2.3 percent A$4.85 after data showed China's imports of iron ore rose 7.8 percent in December to a record 70.94 million tonnes.
"The iron ore import number is very positive. Some people are warning of a big correction in iron ore prices but we actually think demand is going to remain quite solid going forward because of recovering steel demand and new steel capacity coming onstream," said Henry Liu, analyst at Mirae Asset.
Iron ore prices have jumped more than 80 percent from three-year lows in September, to 15-month highs following a revival in demand from top buyer China, whose monthly imports topped 70 million tonnes for the first time in December.
The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index rose 15 points to 4,723, according to the latest data. It rose 0.4 percent on Wednesday to snap a three-day losing streak.
New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index gained 0.4 percent to 4,119.1, a fresh 5-year closing high.
China's exports in December grew 14.1 percent from a year earlier to hit a seven-month peak, data showed, trouncing market expectations for 4 percent. Imports grew 6 percent.
The Australian and New Zealand dollars also firmed on the good portent for commodity prices and their exports.
"Regional markets are mostly firmer on the back of China's trade balance numbers which smashed expectations," said Stan Shamu, strategist at IG Markets.
Top banks were all higher, led by a gain of 0.5 percent to A$25.15 in ANZ Banking Group.
Aspire Mining Ltd surged 39 percent to A$0.082 after Noble Group agreed to provide additional support for its coking coal project.
Australia's biggest gold miner Newcrest Mining Ltd fell 2.1 percent to A$21.56, declining for a fifth session in a row to hit a near six-month, with the lacklustre bullion market exerting a bearish influence. The gold price dropped to more than a four-month low of $1,630 an ounce last week.
An annual report from JP Morgan's specialist sales desk obtained by Reuters said copper and gold miner PanAust Ltd was Australia's top contender to be taken over in 2013 in another year likely to be dominated by acquisitions of resource companies.. (Reporting by Miranda Maxwell; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)