Asian Markets Rally on Japan Stimulus News

HONG KONG – Asian stock markets resumed their upward march Thursday, with Tokyo's index surging nearly 4 percent, as investors cheered Japan's $150 billion stimulus proposal and signs recession was starting to ease in the world's second-largest economy. Major European stock indexes opened higher.

Major Asian markets gained along with the dollar and crude oil prices following two days of declines that interrupted a powerful advance over the last month. Japanese exporters like Sony and Sharp helped lead the way.

Japan's ruling party is seeking a stimulus package that is substantially bigger than originally announced, involving 15 trillion yen ($150.4 billion) in new fiscal spending. The measures, should they win final approval, would equal some 3 percent of the country's gross domestic product.

Asia's largest economy has become catatonic since Western demand for cars, electronics and other exports crucial to its growth evaporated in the last year, forcing companies big and small to make drastic cuts to production and staff.

But Japan's machinery orders — an indicator of how much the country's companies plan to spend — offered a glimmer of hope after rising for the first time in five months. Core private sector machinery orders grew 1.4 percent in February from the previous month to 728.1 billion yen ($7.3 billion), the government said.

There was also upbeat data from China where auto sales hit a monthly record of 1.11 million vehicles in March, exceeding U.S. sales for the third month in a row, as tax cuts and rebates for small car purchases lured buyers back into showrooms.

Investors were growing more confident, but any downbeat news from U.S. companies reporting earnings in the coming weeks or about Asia's economies could quickly sour sentiment.

"Things are stabilizing to a greater extent, but the economic situation hasn't entirely improved overall," said Lucinda Chan, a director at Macquarie Private Wealth in Sydney.

As trading got underway in Europe, Britain's FTSE 100 was up 0.3 percent, France's CAC 40 rose 0.7 percent and Germany's DAX advanced 1.1 percent. U.S. futures pointed to a higher open on Wall Street. Dow futures gained 45 points, or 0.6 percent, to 7,838 and S&P500 futures rose 6.7 points, or 0.8 percent, to 829.

Earlier in Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average added 321.05 points, or 3.7 percent, to 8,916.06 for its highest close in three months, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng climbed 426.55, or 3 percent, to 14,901.41.

South Korea's Kospi rose 4.3 percent to 1,316.25. Elsewhere, Australia's benchmark gained 1.4 percent, Taiwan's jumped 4.1 percent and Singapore advanced 2 percent.

In Tokyo, tech shares were among the day's biggest winners, lifted by hopes that the new stimulus package would boost consumer spending. Sharp Corp. skyrocketed 10.7 percent, Sony Corp. added 7.8 percent and Canon Inc. advanced 5.5 percent.

Machinery makers also made big strides. Komatsu Ltd. was up 6 percent, Okuma Corp. closed 10.2 percent higher and NSK Ltd. added 9.6 percent.

Overnight in New York, insurance and technology shares led Wall Street higher in a volatile day, lifted by a deal merging two major homebuilders and news the government was ready to extend aid to battered life insurance firms.

The Dow Jones industrials rose 47.55, or 0.6 percent, to 7,837.11. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 9.61, or 1.2 percent, to 825.16.

Oil prices rose above $51 a barrel Thursday in Asia as stronger-than-expected results from U.S. retailers suggested the worst of a plunge in American consumer spending may be over.

Benchmark crude for May delivery rose $1.77 to $51.15 a barrel. The contract rose 23 cents on Wednesday to settle at $49.38.

The dollar gained to 100.08 yen from 99.72 yen. The euro rose to $1.3297.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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