Asian stock markets mostly rise after positive Japan, SKorea economic reports

By Jeremiah Marquez, AP
Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Asia stocks up amid hopeful regional economic data

HONG KONG — Asian stock markets were mostly higher Tuesday as positive regional economic reports and corporate dealmaking buoyed optimism about the global recovery. European shares gained modestly.

Asia’s upward move followed Western markets, where investors were encouraged by overnight news debt-ridden insurer American International Group Inc. was selling its Asian life insurance unit to Britain’s Prudential PLC for $35.5 billion.

The news, part of a rash of recent buyouts and takeovers, was seen as an indication companies are more confident about the economy’s prospects.

Tuesday also brought further evidence of Asia’s rebound.

Japan’s unemployment rate fell in January for the second straight month and household spending posted solid growth, providing the latest signal the world’s second-largest economy was healing. In South Korea, exports jumped more than 30 percent last month from a year earlier amid strengthening overseas demand.

Still, several major markets bucked the broader buying or fluctuated.

Tim Condon, head of Asia research for ING Financial Markets in Singapore, said that while there was little to derail the region’s recovery, investors were still climbing a wall of worry over lingering problems in the global economy.

“Sentiment is fragile,” Condon said. “Investor concerns about problems surrounding Greece and China are still fresh enough, and I don’t think a consensus view of the endgame is sufficiently formed so that people can rest easy.”

As trading started in Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 0.3 percent and Germany’s DAX was up 0.1 percent. France’s CAC-40 was almost unchanged. Wall Street futures were slightly lower, pointing to a lackluster open in the U.S. Tuesday.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock average gained 47.83 points, or 0.5 percent, at 10,219.89.

Elsewhere, South Korea’s Kospi gained 1.3 percent to 1,615.12 and India’s Sensex climbed 1.8 percent to 16,732.98. Markets in Taiwan and Singapore also gained.

In Australia, stocks closed up 0.3 percent after the country’s central bank hiked its key interest rate to 4 percent, the fourth increase since October, as it continues to reduce stimulus to an economy that has rapidly recovered from the global recession.

But Hong Kong’s Hang Seng dropped 150.82, or 0.7 percent, to 20,906.11. Heavy selling in HSBC shares, down more than 7 percent, dragged on the broader market after the British-based bank’s results disappointed investors. China’s Shanghai index was down 0.5 percent.

Technology shares across Asia gained after SanDisk, which makes flash memory cards used in electronics like cameras, increased its first-quarter revenue forecast. South Korean heavyweight Samsung Electronic jumped 3.5 percent.

In currencies, the dollar weakened to 89.07 yen from 89.11 yen. The euro was lower at $1.3488 from $1.3555.

Oil drifted lower in Asia, with the benchmark contract down 8 cents to $78.63 a barrel.

Overnight in the U.S., the Dow rose 78.53, or 0.8 percent, to 10,403.79, its highest close since Jan. 20. The Dow is down 24 points for the year, though still down 322 points from a 15-month high on Jan. 19.

The broader S&P 500 index rose 11.22, or 1 percent, to 1,115.71, its best level since Jan. 21. It is now up 0.1 percent for 2010. The Nasdaq rose 35.31, or 1.6 percent, to 2,273.57. It is up 0.2 percent for the year.

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