Asia Rallies Thanks to Bernanke, Italy Debt Sale
Asian stocks rallied on Thursday, with Japan's Nikkei leading gains as the Federal Reserve's steadfast support for an ultra-easy monetary policy and a successful bond auction in Italy lifted risk appetite in a volatile week for global markets.
The nomination of Asian Development Bank President Haruhiko Kuroda, an advocate of aggressive monetary easing, as Japan's next central bank chief fueled a rally in Japanese shares.
The benchmark Nikkei soared 2.7 percent, taking it within sight of Monday's 53-month peak. Australian shares meanwhile gained more than 1 percent to a fresh four-and-a-half year, making the S&P ASX 200 Asia's best performing major index in February.
Seoul's benchmark Kospi rose to its highest level since January 3 and the Shanghai stock market jumped over 2 percent, although it was still headed for a loss of just over 1 percent for the month.
On Wednesday, Fed Chief Ben Bernanke reiterated the central bank's commitment to an easy monetary policy. This together with strong bids at a government bond auction in Italy helped boost investor confidence, which was hit earlier this week by fears of political deadlock following Italian elections.
Asian markets have notched up two consecutive days of gains, but some experts are not convinced the rally can last. "I think we can expect to see continued volatility. I am not convinced this correction is over, particularly as implications of higher Italian bond yields become more apparent," said John Woods, chief investment strategist at Citi Private Bank.
A Dove at the BOJ?
In Tokyo, Kuroda's nomination as Japan's next central bank chief was seen as positive for shares because of his support for the bold monetary policy that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been advocating to end years of deflation and weak economic growth.
(Read More: 'Abenomics' Picks Up Speed With Kuroda Nomination)
Expectations for aggressive monetary easing have helped drive the yen lower since November, which has boosted the Nikkei. The blue-chip index climbed almost 4 percent in February.
Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy at AMP Capital said he expected further gains for the Nikkei stock index amid the prospect of aggressive monetary easing. "In the short-run, there has been a bit of a pause but we're looking for a gain of 20 percent in Japanese shares this year, while the yen should weaken to around 110 against the dollar," he said.
(Read More: 'Ugly' Yen a Sign of What's to Come?)
The yen is held steady at around the 92-level against the dollar.
Aussie Retailers Shine
In Australia, retailers were in the spotlight with electronics chain store Harvey Norman and supermarket operator Woolworths among the day's big winners.
Harvey Norman posted a 36 percent slide in first-half net profit but the numbers were not as bad as the market had anticipated and the outlook for sales was positive, boosting the retailer's shares more than 7 percent. Woolworths' shares jumped over 2 percent after the firm reported a 4 percent rise in first-half profits.
One analyst told CNBC that despite the day's gains, Australia's retail sector was still dogged by structural issues.
"The market is still very patchy so it's still too early to say there's a clear trend on the positive side. It's an incredibly tough space and we haven't seen any clear trends to make us go back into that market," said Matthew Haupt, equity analyst at Wilson Asset Management.
(Read More: Want 10% Returns? Look Overseas: Bill Gross)
South Korea's stock market logged a 2 percent gain for the month of February, tracking an Asia-wide rally. Economic data on Thursday showed sentiment among Korean manufactures remained frail with factory output in January declining for the first time in five months.
The resurgence in the real-estate sector was spurred by a 6 percent rally in shares of Vanke, China's biggest property developer, after it posted a 30 percent rise in 2012 profit from a year earlier.