Asian stocks ended mostly higher on Thursday, with upbeat Chinese trade data and expectations of more policy easing by the Bank of Japan underpinning sentiment. Chinese trade data topped economists' forecasts, with December exports expanding at their fastest pace in seven months, adding to recent optimism that growth in the world's second-largest economy is rebounding.
The Japanese yen touched a fresh two-and-a-half-year low against the dollar on speculation the Bank of Japan will adopt a 2 percent inflation target, double the bank's current goal, at its upcoming monetary policy meeting later this month to end deflation and boost growth.
Tokyo stocks extended gains, boosted by the yen's weakness on speculation the Bank of Japan will expand stimulus at its January 21-22 review. The Nikkei average rose 0.7 percent. Automaker Honda Motor advanced 2.5 percent, chemical firm Shin-Etsu Chemical gained 2.1 percent, lender Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group rose 1.1 percent and insurer Dai-ichi Life Insurance soared 4.6 percent.
Isuzu Motors jumped 3.8 percent after the company unveiled plans to jointly develop new pickup truck models with General Motors. Mazda Motor jumped over 10 percent after Bank of America raised its rating on the stock.
China-exposed Hitachi Construction Machinery rose 0.8 percent and Komatsu gained 1.6 percent after Chinese trade data beat forecasts. Shares in Sony Corp climbed 3.4 percent benefiting from a Nikkei report that the electronics giant plans to sell its Sony City Osaki Building to increase its cash reserves.
China's Shanghai Composite index rose 0.4 percent after data showed exports soared 14.1 percent in December from the same month a year earlier, beating estimates. Caution ahead of inflation data due on Friday and weak lending data capped gains to some extent. New local currency loans extended by financial institutions tumbled 13 percent year-over-year to 454 billion yuan in December, according to data released by People's Bank of China.
Hong Kong's Hang Seng index rose 0.6 percent on optimism that China's economy has bottomed out.
Australian shares rose, with better-than-expected Chinese trade data supporting sentiment. A somewhat disappointing report on building approvals and weaker-than-expected Chinese bank lending data limited any major upside. Reversing early losses, both the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 and the broader All Ordinaries index ended up about 0.3 percent each.
Miners led the gainers on optimism about Chinese growth. Rio Tinto rose 0.4 percent and smaller rival Fortescue Metals Group added 2.3 percent. Gold miner Newcrest fell over 2 percent after Canadian miner Yamana Gold cut its gold production forecast for 2013. Among the major banks, ANZ, Commonwealth, NAB and Westpac all closed up about half a percent each.
South Korea's Kospi average rose 0.8 percent, lifted by bullish trade data from China. Market heavyweight Samsung Electronics rallied 2 percent on bargain hunting after losing nearly 5 percent in the past five sessions. Shares of state-run utility Korea Electric Power Corp rallied 3.6 percent on an analyst upgrade after South Korea said it would hike electricity prices by an average 4 percent from January 14.
Ssangyong Motor soared 15 percent after its parent Mahindra & Mahindra said it would invest $900 million over the next four to five years in products to be developed jointly with its South Korean subsidiary.
New Zealand shares posted modest gains, lifting the benchmark NZX-50 index up 0.4 percent to a fresh five-year high. Fletcher Building, the nation's largest construction company, rallied 2.6 percent after data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed building approvals rose a seasonally adjusted 2.9 percent in November following a 5.1 percent decline in the previous month.
Steel & Tube Holdings, which sells steel building materials, added 0.8 percent and carpet maker Cavalier advanced 1.8 percent, while rural services firm PGG Wrightson soared 4.3 percent to a 17-month high. Gold miner OceanaGold led the decliners on the exchange, falling 3.8 percent, while Nuplex and Skellerup Holdings lost about a percent each.
Elsewhere, Taiwan's Weighted average rose 0.9 percent and Singapore's Straits Times index was moving up 0.2 percent, while benchmark indexes in India, Indonesia and Malaysia were subdued.
On Wall Street, stocks broke two days of losses overnight on optimism about the outlook for corporate earnings following better-than-expected quarterly results from bellwether Alcoa. The Dow and the tech-heavy Nasdaq rose about half a percent each, while the S&P 500 added 0.3 percent.
by RTT Staff Writer
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