) -- The Australian dollar soared to its highest post-float levels Friday.

The currency, floated in 1983, was rising 0.3% to USD 1.02420 after hitting the record high of $1.0294. It last hit a high on Dec. 31 at $1.0257.

A multitude of forces were driving the Australian dollar higher, including the country's strong mining sector amid soaring commodity prices, increased risk appetite as European and U.S. equities rebound, cross-border merger and acquisition flows as evidenced by the complex buyout transaction between European insurer



and Australian financial services firm


for AXA Asia-Pacific. Another factor was speculation of strong demand from Australian insurers in the face of big claims relating to the destructive floods.

Mining giant

BHP Billiton

(BHP) - Get Report

has unveiled a $13 billion investment to expand its coal and iron ore operations in Australia, further spurring optimism about the country's mining sector.

In the U.S., data from the last few weeks points to promising signs of solid economic recovery in the country. On Friday, the government said fourth-quarter 2010 gross domestic product increased more than expected.

Also helping the currency was the weakening of the yen following a coordinated selloff of the currency by central banks from the G-7 group of industrialized nations last week to curtail appreciation. In addition, automatic buy orders kicked in with the Australian dollar's advance.

Investors who no longer view the Aussie dollar as a risky asset; but rather, a global safe-haven currency that also has high yields in a country with strict fiscal policy and high interest rates, offered another form of support. This trend has gained momentum because traditional safe-haven assets such as gold remain expensive.

Case in point: U.K. Chancellor George Osborne said the U.K. is ready to rebuild its foreign-exchange reserves with a range of high-quality assets, but wouldn't be replenishing gold reserves because of its very high price.

Even with the market on edge over Europe's debt problems, Japan's nuclear crisis following the massive earthquake and tsunami, and violent social strife in the Middle East and North Africa, the Australian dollar has been rising steadily, up 0.9% over the past month and up 2.2% over the past three months against its U.S. counterpart.


CurrencyShares Australian Dollar Trust

(FXA) - Get Report

was rising 0.3% to $102.79, the

Index IQ Australia Small Cap ETF


was adding 0.8% to $29.44 and the

iShares MSCI Australia Index Fund

(EWA) - Get Report

was advancing 0.5% to $25.78 in afternoon trading.

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Written by Andrea Tse in New York


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