Asia-Pacific Markets

Banks, Energy Lead Asian Stocks to Seven-Week High

Asian stocks rose to their highest level in seven weeks on Monday, as investors cheered upbeat earnings from U.S. bellwethers which triggered a rally in U.S. stocks last Friday.

Financial firms rallied on optimism that the worst of the credit crisis may has passed, while record high oil prices lifted energy firms. Banks such as South Korea's Kookmin Bank, Japan's Sumitomo Mitsui Financial and Australia's Macquarie Group were all sharply higher.

Tokyo's Nikkei 225 Average rose 1.5%, led by third-largest wireless operator Softbank, tracking a rally on Wall Street on reassuring U.S. earnings.  Earth-moving equipment maker Komatsu soared after U.S. rival Caterpillar reported stronger-than-expected profits.

Seoul stocks advanced 1.6 percent, touching their highest since January, from support by technology shares such as LG Electronics. Hyundai Motors soared 4.7 percent on a strong growth outlook fueled by its expansion into China and India.

Australian shares climbed 2.9 percent, on the back of strong interest in financials. Commonwealth Bank of Australia, National Australia Bank and ANZ all surged more than 5 percent as pessimism over the credit crisis receded. Record high oil prices benefited energy firms such as Origin Energy, BHP Billiton and Santos.

Chinese shares surged nearly 7 percent at the open after the securities regulator introduced new rules to limit the flow of non-tradeable shares. But the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index gave up most of those early gains to finish 0.7 percent higher. China Southern Airlines was a big winner, skyrocketing nearly 9 percent after the carrier posted solid first-quarter results.

The gains in China prompted a rally in Hong Kong. The Hang Seng Index rose 2.1 percent with Ping An Insurance and contracted handset maker Foxconn International leading the blue-chip rally. The China Enterprises Index of Hong Kong-listed mainland companies, or H shares, jumped 2.9 percent.

Singapore's Straits Times Index climbed 1.4 percent, in line with the region's gains.

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