Asian stocks edge up on stimulus hopes after Chinese data

|     Annabelle Liang     |

SINGAPORE (AP) – Asian markets were mostly higher yesterday as slowing Chinese industrial output left traders hopeful of more assurances from Beijing.

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 gained 0.7 per cent to 21,431.28 and the Kospi in South Korea was up 0.1 per cent at 2,149.48. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng added 0.1 per cent to 28,840.30. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.1 per cent to 6,167.00.

The Shanghai Composite lost 0.6 per cent to 3,010.06. Shares were flat in Taiwan but fell in Singapore and the Philippines.

China’s industrial output grew 5.3 per cent in the first two months of 2019 from the same period last year, official data showed yesterday. This was weaker than expected and the slowest pace of growth in 17 years.

But other numbers beat analyst’s expectations. Retail sales climbed 8.2 per cent and fixed asset investment rose 6.1 per cent in the same period. The National Bureau of Statistics combines readings for January and February to account for the Lunar New Year holiday, where many factories and businesses were closed.

Currency traders watch monitors at the foreign exchange dealing room of the KEB Hana Bank headquarters in Seoul, South Korea. – AP

“The mixed bag of numbers featured the industrial production miss most prominently, at 5.3 per cent year-on-year against the 5.6 per cent consensus,” Jingyi Pan of IG said in an interview.

“The focus would likely return to economic policies very soon and expectations for the raft of policies announced thus far to help shore up economic performance,” she said.

On Wall Street, stocks secured their third straight gain on Wednesday after health care and technology companies rose. Boeing dipped briefly, but ultimately finished slightly higher, as the United States (US) joined much of the world in grounding its 737 Max 8 aircraft after a fatal crash in Ethiopia on Sunday.

The broad S&P 500 index gained 0.7 per cent to 2,810.92. The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 0.6 per cent to 25,702.89 and the Nasdaq composite climbed 0.7 per cent to 7,643.41. The Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks was 0.4 per cent higher at 1,555.88.

Oil prices advanced after a weekly US Energy Information Administration report showed that crude stockpiles fell by 3.9 million barrels from the previous week. This marked the second decline in three weeks.

Benchmark US crude rose 10 cents to USD58.36 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It gained USD1.39 to settle at USD58.26 per barrel on Wednesday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, rose 17 cents to USD67.72 per barrel. It picked up 88 cents to close at USD67.55 per barrel in London.

The dollar strengthened to 111.59 yen from 111.17 yen late Wednesday. The euro eased to USD1.1325 from USD1.1326.