Asia-Pacific Markets

Asian Markets Climb, Japan Adds Over 1% with Wires

Asian markets rallied Thursday, with Japan and South Korea both finishing over 1 percent higher after more positive economic data out of the U.S. eased investor concerns over a global recession.

A report on Wednesday from the Institute for Supply Management showed the U.S. service sector shrank in February at a slower pace than in January. After the data, the dollar slipped to a record low reading of 73.368 against a basket of currencies and the euro poked above $1.53 for the first time. The dollar remained close to its low against the euro in Asian trade and wavered around 103.75 yen, giving up gains it made on Wednesday.

The weaker dollar further whetted the appetite for oil, which rallied $5 after the export cartel OPEC decided not to raise output and data showed U.S. inventories had fallen sharply. U.S. crude struck an all-time high of $104.95 a barrel on Wednesday and lurked within reach of the record at $104.50 in Asian trade.

Japan's Nikkei 225 Average added 1.9 percent, with exporters such as Canon climbing on a stabilising yen and easing concerns about a U.S. recession.   Trading houses such as Mitsubishi extended their gains, buoyed by rising prices of commodities including crude oil.     Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and other bank shares also rose on hopes that some measures are on the way to address U.S. subprime problems.

Seoul stocks closed 1.2 percent higher as U.S. recession fears abated on better-than-expected U.S. service data, boosting exporter shares such as LG Philips LCD and Hynix Semiconductor. Steelmakers gained on the back of higher stainless steel prices, with POSCO and Hyundai Steel both advancing.

Australian shares rose 1.1 percent, ending a five session losing streak, led by gains in resource firms such as BHP Billiton on record oil prices and a jump in metal prices. Sentiment was also lifted by data showing the U.S. services sector contracted less than expected last month, which helped soothe concerns about a U.S. recession.

Hong Kong stocks bounced from three-week lows, buoyed by advancing Asian markets, as PetroChina jumped on record oil prices and strong metals prices sent mining shares sharply higher. Better-than-expected earnings boosted the stock of bourse operator Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing, while Ping An Insurance was the top blue-chip gainer after shareholders approved an equity issue plan that could raise some $17 billion. The Hang Seng Index ended 1 percent higher.

Singapore's Straits Times Index ended 0.3 percent higher with bank stocks such as DBS Group moving higher.

Chinese stocks closed 1.6 percent higher in heavy trade, led by a nearly 10 percent jump in Ping An Insurance after shareholders approved its controversial plan for an equity issue that could raise some $17 billion. Both the market and Ping An itself had been depressed since mid-January by the insurer's fund-raising plan, as investors worried the market might not be able to absorb the massive issue and that other big companies might follow suit with cash calls.