Asia-Pacific Markets

Resource Stocks Lift Asian Markets Higher

Asian stocks rose to their highest in a month Thursday as a rally in gold and oil lifted resource shares, while a surprisingly optimistic indicator for U.S. jobs raised hopes of a milder U.S. economy recession than previously feared.

The U.S. private sector added 8,000 jobs in March, according to a report on Wednesday by ADP Employer Services, confounding economist expectations and taking some of the sting off the Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's warning that the U.S. economy may slip into recession, his first such concession.

Tokyo's Nikkei 225 Average rose 1.5 percent to a one-month high as financial firms extended gains, but market energy was limited by wariness ahead of U.S. jobs data and the start of big Japanese corporate earnings reports next week. Casual-clothing seller Fast Retailing rose 4 percent and Toshiba jumped 5.9 percent after the firm said it was in the race for four nuclear reactor orders in the United States, which other firms estimate to be worth a total of $14 billion.

Seoul stocks advanced again setting a fresh 11-week closing high, boosted by steelmakers after POSCO said it was considering raising steel prices and bidding for a shipbuilder.  POSCO closed up 6.17 percent, after the world's fourth-largest steelmaker said it was considering a hike in its steel price and was also considering bidding for Daewoo Shipbuilding and MarineDongbu Steel and Dongkuk Steel also advanced.

Australian shares rose 1.9 percent to hit a five-week closing high, lifted by gains in heavyweight resource firms such as BHP Billiton and Woodside Petroleum on stronger oil and metal prices. Further boosting the market, financial firms continued to advance as recent massive writedowns by financial institutions such as Swiss bank UBS, raised optimism that investors may have seen the worst of the credit crisis. Macquarie Group, Australia's top investment bank, rose 2 percent.

Hong Kong stocks rose 1.6 percent, a day after hitting a one-month high. Sun Hung Kai Properties advanced 2.9 percent. This was despite worries about the U.S. economy after Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said a recession was possible.

Singapore's Straits Times Index was up 1.5 percent, but Noble Group shares slumped after the firm said it has placed new shares to raise cash. The commodities trader has placed 100 million new shares with institutional investors to raise S$209 million (US$152 million).

Chinese stocks were mixed in extremely thin trade as selling pressure eased but concern about slowing economic growth and large supplies of fresh equity deterred any aggressive buying. The Shanghai Composite Index tumbled as much as 2.29 percent in the opening minutes after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the U.S. economy might slip into recession.
But Chinese stocks soon came off their lows after the Hong Kong market opened firmer, to close 2.9 percent higher.