Asian shares climb, Tokyo gains as businesses begin to reopen

TOKYO (AP) – Asian shares are mostly higher, with Tokyo stocks gaining.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lifted a coronavirus state of emergency in Tokyo and four other remaining areas yesterday, ending the restrictions nationwide as businesses begin to reopen.

But shares fell in Hong Kong yesterday after police used tear gas to quell weekend protests over a proposed national security bill for the former British colony.

United States (US) markets were closed for Memorial Day.

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 added 1.7 per cent to finish at 20,741.65. South Korea’s Kospi gained 1.2 per cent to 1,994.60. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 jumped 2.2 per cent to 5,615.60.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng slipped 0.2 per cent to 22,895.55. The Shanghai Composite picked up 0.2 per cent to 2,817.97.

An electronic foreign currency exchange rates in downtown Seoul, South Korea. Asian shares are mostly higher, with Tokyo stocks gaining. PHOTO: AP

The protests in Hong Kong in response to legislation presented to China’s National People’s Congress, which is now meeting in Beijing, were the largest in months despite bans on large gathering meant to prevent spreading the coronavirus.

The revival of sometimes violent pro-democracy protests that rocked the city for much of 2019 raises the likelihood of more tensions between Beijing and Washington over China’s efforts to exert more control over the semi-autonomous territory.

“With more riots in the street amid the knockdown effects of COVID-19 and a possible exodus of jobs from the city’s financial centre, surely things will get much worse before better,” Stephen Innes of AxiCorp said in a commentary.

Japan gradually relaxed calls for people to stay home and for some businesses to stay closed as reports of confirmed cases of COVID-19 and related deaths have declined. Japan has reported about 820 deaths and more than 16,000 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, relatively few compared to hard-hit nations like the US.

The prime minister’s announcement came after markets closed. Some department stores and restaurants have already reopened.

Although people are wearing masks and having their temperatures taken at the doors of some public places, fears persist that a resumption of normal economic activity and fewer social distancing precautions will bring on a resurgence of infections.

Wall Street ended the week with a gain. The S&P 500 index inched up 0.2 per cent to 2,955.45. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gave up less than 0.1 per cent to 24,465.16. The Nasdaq composite added 39.71 points, or 0.4 per cent, to 9,324.59.

Despite the uneven finish, the three major stock indexes each ended the week more than three per cent higher, while the Russell 2000 index of small company stocks jumped 7.8 per cent for the week. On Friday, the Russell 2000 gained 0.6 per cent to 1,355.53. Fresh hopes for a US economic recovery in the second half of the year and optimism about a potential vaccine for COVID-19 helped spur stocks higher for much of the week. Investors are betting, despite concerns over the risks of reigniting outbreaks of the virus, that the economy and corporate profits will begin to recover from the pandemic as the US and countries around the world slowly open up again.

In other trading yesterday, benchmark US crude oil picked up 33 cents to USD33.58 a barrel. It fell two per cent, or 67 cents, to USD33.25 a barrel on Friday. Brent crude oil, the international standard, rose 13 cents to USD35.26 a barrel.

Crude oil started the year at about USD60 a barrel and then plummeted as demand sank due to widespread travel and business shutdowns related to the coronavirus.

The US dollar inched up to JPY107.69 from JPY107.63 late Friday. The euro fell to USD1.0876 from USD1.0901.