Asian stocks rallied on Friday, boosted by strong advances in the U.S. and European markets overnight after the European Central Bank unveiled a bond-buying program to ease Europe's debt crisis. Chinese shares were at the forefront following reports Beijing is accelerating infrastructure spending to bolster growth. Market attention now turns to U.S. employment data scheduled to be released tonight, as the report may have some bearing on the Fed's next policy meeting scheduled for next week.
Tokyo stocks posted sharp gains, with the Nikkei average rallying 2.2 percent to its highest level since August 30 as the ECB's latest plan to buy government bonds issued by southern European nations eased investor fears of contagion from Greece and Europe. The yen's slide also helped lift investor mood. The broader Topix index advanced 2.3 percent, with 31 of its 33 sub-indexes ending in positive territory.
Steelmakers such as Nippon Steel and JFE Holdings soared 9-11 percent on optimism over Chinese demand amid reports that China's top planning agency has approved 30 infrastructure projects, adding to Wednesday's announcement of 25 new rail projects. Shipping line Mitsui OSK rose 4.4 percent, insurer Dai-ichi Life Insurance jumped 8.2 percent and brokerage Nomura Holdings climbed 4.5 percent.
Automakers and machinery makers also rose sharply, with Honda Motor up 5.2 percent and Komatsu climbing 6.6 percent. Among electronics and precision instrument manufacturers, Canon, Pioneer, Sony and Tokyo Electron gained 4-6 percent. Japan Tobacco tumbled 4.3 percent on renewed concerns that anti-smoking regulations globally might be emulated in Japan as well.
China's Shanghai Composite index jumped 3.7 percent, its biggest single-day percentage gain in nearly eight months, after the government unveiled massive infrastructure investment plans to support the economy. Financial and construction shares led the rally amid hopes the government will announce more pro-growth policies when China's new administration takes office in March 2013. Hong Kong shares followed suit, lifting the benchmark Hang Seng up about 3 percent.
Australian shares posted modest gains, with selling in domestic-oriented companies limiting further upside. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.3 percent, while the broader All Ordinaries index added 0.4 percent. Among the major miners, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto rose 2-4 percent, while Fortescue Metals jumped over 11 percent on bargain hunting after shares hit a fresh three-year low yesterday. Banks ended subdued, with ANZ, Commonwealth and NAB all dropping about 0.2 percent each, while Westpac fell 0.8 percent.
Defensive stocks like CSL and Cochlear fell about 2 percent each on profit taking after gains in the past few months, while retailers Woolworths and Wesfarmers lost around a percent each. Shares of Consolidated Media Holdings edged down 0.6 percent after the company backed a revised takeover offer from Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.
South Korea's Kospi average jumped 2.6 percent, posting its largest gain in six weeks, as stocks saw buying across the board, boosted by the bond-buying plan unveiled by the ECB to contain the euro zone debt crisis. Market heavyweight Samsung Electronics climbed about 4.5 percent, while shipbuilders Daewoo Shipbuilding, Hyundai Heavy Industries, Hyundai Mipo Dockyard and Marine Engineering soared 5-9 percent.
In economic news, Fitch Ratings has upgraded South Korea's long-term foreign-currency issuer default rating to 'AA-' from 'A+', reflecting the country's continued economic and financial stability in the volatile global environment. The agency also maintained its 'stable' outlook on the economy, citing the country's strong macroeconomic policy framework, including sustained fiscal discipline and strong structural fundamentals.
New Zealand shares rose notably, lifting the NZX-50 index up 0.8 percent above 3700 for the first time since February 2008. Online auction site Trade Me rose 2.8 percent to a three-month high on news that shares of the company will enter the S&P/ASX 300 Index on September 21.
Gold miner OceanaGold rallied 3.3 percent, national carrier Air New Zealand advanced 1.4 percent, heavyweight Telecom, which looks attractive with a 12 percent dividend yield, edged up 0.6 percent and Fletcher Building, the nation's largest construction company, gained 0.3 percent, while retailer Warehouse Group fell 1.7 percent after reporting a 14 percent drop in full-year earnings.
Elsewhere, India's benchmark Sensex was last rising 2 percent, Indonesia's Jakarta Composite index added a percent, Malaysia's KLSE Composite edged up 0.4 percent, Singapore's Straits Times index rose 0.8 percent and the Taiwan Weighted average closed up 1.3 percent.
On Wall Street, stocks rose sharply overnight, as traders reacted positively to the ECB's bond-buying program along with a batch of upbeat U.S. economic data on private sector jobs growth, claims for unemployment benefits and service sector growth. The Dow and the S&P 500 jumped about 2 percent each to hit four-year closing highs, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq climbed 2.2 percent to end at its best closing level in over eleven years.
by RTT Staff Writer
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