Asia-Pacific Markets

Asian Markets Rally, Japan Closes at Six-Week High with Wires

Asian markets closed higher across the board Wednesday, marking a third straight session of gains. Hong Kong was the best performer, closing over 3 percent higher, and Japan ended over 1 percent up.

The dollar hit an all-time low against a basket of currencies a day after U.S. consumer sentiment was reported to have sunk to a five-year low, offering more proof that the world's largest economy is struggling. The report, along with recent weak retail sales and manufacturing data, has reinforced expectations that the U.S. Federal Reserve will have to cut interest rates further, pressuring the dollar.

The slumping greenback sparked a further rally in commodities and metals. Oil remained above $101 a barrel -- a level it broke for the first time on Tuesday -- while gold surged to a record high, driven as well by a search for a hedge against inflation.

Japan's Nikkei 225 Average rose more than 1 percent to post a six-week closing high, with
blue-chip shares such as Sony driving gains IBM's share buyback plan boosted investor confidence. Mizuho Financial Group and other financials also gained on growing relief about the stability of U.S. bond insurers after Moody's affirmed its credit rating on MBIA, while higher oil prices boosted energy shares.

South Korea's KOSPI rose 0.7 percent to a five-week closing high, as shipbuilders rallied after a fresh order for sector leader Hyundai Heavy renewed hopes over earnings, while techs tracked Wall Street peers firmer.

Australian shares added 1.78 percent to a three-week high, rising for a third straight day as financials gained on easing credit worries, while record peaks for oil and gold lifted resource firms. Buoying sentiment in the banking sector, Moody's confirmed bond insurer MBIA's "AAA" rating, a day after Standard & Poor's took MBIA's top rating off its credit watch. The top four banks all rose between 1.2 and 4.1 percent and Macquarie Group, Australia's top investment bank, gained 2.5 percent. Resource firms also rose. Woodside Petroleum, top miner BHP Billiton and gold miner Newcrest Mining all advanced.

Hong Kong stocks leapt more than 3 percent, as advancing global equities and Asia-focused bank Standard Chartered's forecast-beating earnings fueled investor confidence. Resource plays also drew strength from a commodity rally and record gold prices. Hong Kong's financial secretary unveiled the city's 2008-09 budget, which included corporate and salary tax concessions, helping to brighten the market's mood.

Singapore's Straits Times Index rose 0.5 percent. Shares of commodities trading firm Noble Group climbed over 17 percent at one point after the firm posted a 92 percent rise in 2007 net profit.

Chinese stocks rose 2.3 percent, led by financial stocks such as Merchants Bank and Ping An Insurance as Tuesday's rebound from technical support continued. The Shanghai Composite Index bounced from around chart support at 4,165 points, the 38.2 percent retracement of its bull run from June 2005 -- the second time this month that it has rebounded from that level. This convinced some investors that another rally was starting.