Asia shares mostly higher on upbeat China factory data

BANGKOK (AP) — Shares were mostly higher in Asia yesterday after a survey of Chinese manufacturers showed factory activity improved slightly in December.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan’s Nikkei 225 index gained 1.1 per cent to 20,773.49 and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong climbed 1.0 per cent, to 27,830.43. South Korea’s Kospi fell back after Samsung Electronics reported a near 30 per cent drop in operating profit in the last quarter, losing 0.1 per cent to 2,204.85.

Australia’s S&P ASX 200 gave up 0.4 per cent to 5,864.70. The Shanghai Composite index climbed 0.4 per cent to 2,584.94 and India’s Sensex advanced 1.2 per cent to 36,004.32. Shares were higher in Southeast Asia.

WALL STREET: Stocks powered higher on Wednesday after the Federal Reserve signaled it could hold off on interest rate increases in coming months, citing muted inflation. The benchmark S&P 500 index is now on track to end January with its biggest monthly gain in more than three years. The Dow Jones Industrial Average topped 25,000 points for the first time since early December, gaining 1.8 per cent to 25,014.86. The S&P 500 index rose 1.6 per cent to 2,681.05. The Nasdaq composite climbed 2.2 per cent to 7,183.08 and the Russell 2000 index of smaller companies picked up 1.1 per cent, to 1,486.94. The Russell is up more than 10 per cent this month.

CHINA MANUFACTURING: An official measure of China’s manufacturing improved in January but forecasters say economic activity is sluggish as Chinese leaders try to resolve a tariff battle with Washington. The purchasing managers’ index issued yesterday by the government statistics agency and an industry group rose 0.1 points on a 100-point scale but stayed below a level that shows activity expanding. Measures for employment and domestic demand weakened. China’s economic growth sank to a three-decade low in 2018 after activity decelerated in the final quarter of the year.

A man rides a bicycle past an electronic stock board showing Japan’s Nikkei 225 index at a securities firm in Tokyo. – AP

US-CHINA TRADE: Trade talks opened on Wednesday between the US and China and will loom over the market for the remainder of the week. The high-level talks are aimed at settling a months’ long trade war that has raised fears of slower economic growth. Industrial and technology companies have warned about slowing sales because of the trade impasse.

SAMSUNG DISAPPOINTS: Samsung Electronics Co said it posted a near 30 per cent drop in operating profit for the last quarter after seeing slowing global demand for its memory chips and smartphones. It still finished the year with record earnings, but Samsung said it expects its overall annual earnings to decline this year because of the sluggish semiconductor market, although it sees its sales of memory chips and organic light-emitting diode panels used in mobile devices rebounding in the second half.

FED TALK: With pressures on the US economy rising — a global slowdown, a trade war with China, a nervous stock market — the Fed signaled it’s in no hurry to resume raising interest rates. And with inflation remaining tame, the rationale to tighten credit has become less compelling. “The situation calls for patience,” Chairman Jerome Powell said at a news conference. “We have the luxury to be patient.”

ENERGY: US crude oil rose 41 cents in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange to USD54.64 per barrel. It gained 1.7 per cent to settle at USD54.23 per barrel in New York on Wednesday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, added 59 cents to USD62.13 per barrel. It had added 0.5 per cent to close at USD61.65 per barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar weakened to 108.79 yen from 109.04 yen yesterday. The euro rose against the dollar to USD1.1499 from USD1.1479.