HONG KONG (AFP) – Asian markets mostly rose Tuesday after China released data showing its economy grew a little faster than expected, while speculation swirled that the European Central Bank would embark on a huge stimulus programme.
The euro retreated against the dollar after a minor rally on Monday as traders also nervously awaited a close weekend election in Greece, where a far-left anti-austerity party is leading the polls.
Tokyo shares jumped 2.07 per cent, or 352.01 points, to 17,366.30 and Seoul closed 0.82 per cent higher, adding 15.69 points to 1,918.31.
Shanghai gained 1.82 per cent, or 56.70 points, to 3,173.05 – a day after slumping 7.7 per cent in response to an official crackdown on margin trading. Hong Kong rose 0.90 per cent, or 212.67 points, to 23,951.16.
Sydney was flat, edging down 1.47 points to end at 5,307.67.
Beijing’s statistics bureau said on Tuesday the world’s second biggest economy expanded 7.4 per cent in 2014.
While the figure is down from 7.7 per cent the previous year and is the weakest since 1990, a year after the Tiananmen Square crackdown, it beat the median forecast of 7.3 per cent in an AFP survey.
“The 2014 GDP result is better than market expectations and barely missed the target,” ANZ economist Liu Li-Gang told AFP. “This result is not too bad.”
However, the country’s National Bureau of Statistics chief Ma Jiantang told reporters that “we should also be aware that the domestic and international situations are still complicated and economic development is facing difficulties and challenges”.
A soft result was widely expected as the economy was hit last year by a slowdown in manufacturing and trade as well as declining prices for real estate, which has sent a shock through the property sector.
The news provided the catalyst for pick-up in Shanghai’s stocks. On Monday they suffered their heaviest fall in more than six years after regulators last week suspended three brokerages from opening new margin trading customer accounts for three months because of rule violations.
“Sentiment improved today with the better than expected economic data and a stabilising stock market,” Banny Lam, co-head of research at Agricultural Bank of China International Securities in Hong Kong, told Bloomberg News.
Eyes are now on the ECB, with policymakers holding their next meeting on Thursday and analysts broadly expecting them to announce a bond-buying scheme aimed at kickstarting lending in the struggling eurozone.
Those expectations have hammered the euro, which last week fell below $1.1500 for the first time in more than 11 years before recovering slightly.
The focus will turn to Greece at the weekend where there are fears a general election could see the anti-austerity Syriza party win. Some analysts say this could lead to the country eventually exiting the eurozone.
On Tuesday the euro bought $1.1584, compared with $1.1630 in London, and 137.03 yen against 136.69 yen. US markets were closed for a national holiday.
The dollar was worth 118.34 yen in Asia, against 117.53 yen in Europe. The yen – considered safe in times of uncertainty – suffered selling pressure as the Chinese data lifted optimism.
On oil markets, US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for delivery in February fell $1.41 to $47.28 and Brent crude for March fell 39 cents to $48.45.
WTI shed $1.06 Monday and Brent sank $1.02 on reports of record daily output in Iraq, adding to worries about a global supply glut that has sent prices plunging more than 50 per cent since June.
Gold fetched $1,279.63 an ounce, against $1,275.51 late Monday.