<p>

The sharemarket has finished higher, led by gains in the financial sector, after positive domestic data showed signs of a consumer recovery.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 jumped 21.8 points, or 0.5 per cent, to 4738.4, while the broader All Ordinaries added 22 points, or 0.5 per cent, to 4765.

The ASX200 was one of two markets across the region to post gains. Singapore's exchange was the only other to record a lift, up around 0.2 per cent.

Among the sectors, consumer discretionary jumped 0.8 per cent, health surged 2.3 per cent, telcos rose 1.1 per cent and financials added 0.6 per cent.

The Westpac Melbourne Institute Index of Consumer Sentiment for January rose 0.6 points, to 100.6 – a reading above 100 indicates optimists outnumber pessimists.

New car sales also rose in December, up 2.2 per cent for the month and surging 17.9 per cent higher than in December 2011.

‘‘Late last year and into this year, the economic data has been very very soft, pointing to a loss of momentum in the Aussie economy,’’ said financial markets analyst at Suncorp Bank Darryl Conroy.

‘‘I think the market did take some heart from motor vehicle sales and consumer confidence,’’ he said.

The big four banks were a major factor in the market’s rise, all recording gains. CBA rose 0.9 per cent to $62.29, NAB jumped 0.5 per cent to $25.85, ANZ added 0.4 per cent to $25.36 and Westpac was up 0.3 per cent to$26.43.

The iron ore price eased 1.1 per cent, to $US152.90 per tonne, causing the materials sector to slide. BHP fell 0.8 per cent to $36.25, Rio Tinto lost 0.5 per cent to $65.55 and Fortescue Metals dropped 1.5 per cent to $4.57.

‘‘[From] the middle of last week [the iron ore price] began to ease and that’s continued into this week. Having said that, it was a massive run-up in December and the start of this month,’’ said Mr Conroy.

‘‘[It was a] walloping move which suggests Chinese buyers are back in the marketplace, which is good news for the Aussie miners,’’ he said.

Supermarket giants Wesfarmers and Woolworths both recorded gains, after a Deloitte reported said Wesfarmers had joined its rival among the top 20 retailers in the world. Wesfarmers rose 0.5 per cent to $37.83, while Woolworths was also up 0.5 per cent to $30.41.

CSL led the healthcare sector and was the leading force behind the market’s gains for the day. Its shares jumped 3.5 per cent to $54.21.

Construction materials company Boral was the biggest gainer for the day, surging 10 per cent to $4.80, after it said it would cut 700 jobs across in a nationwide restructure of its business.

The media sector also enjoyed a broad rise. Ten Network rose 4.4 per cent to 35.5 cents, Seven West Media jumped 6.1 per cent to $1.92, APN News Media added 5.5 per cent to 29 cents, News Corp gained 1 per cent to $26.04 and Fairfax Media was up 0.9 per cent to 55 cents.