Asia-Pacific Markets

Asian Stocks Rise After Gains on Wall Street

CNBC with wires

Asian stock markets saw healthy gains on Monday, after major indices on Wall Street finished at 15-month closing highs as investors looked past weaker than expected jobs data.

Chinese data on commodity imports and exports for December beat all expectations and pointed to fresh momentum in the global economic recovery, with iron ore imports the second-highest on record.

The MSCI index of Asia Pacific stocks traded outside Japan hit its highest level since July 2008. 

Gold pushed up to a five-week high as the data showed a sharp rise in China's commodity imports and sent the Australian dollar to a 26-month peak against the euro.

Australian stocks advanced to a fresh 15-month closing high, boosted by resource firms as stronger-than-expected data on Chinese imports helped boost faith in a global economic recovery.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.8 percent or 38.6 points to 4,950.70, the highest closing level since Sept 24, 2008 and building on four straight weeks of gains.

The New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index slipped 0.2 percent to 3,303.7.

Top miner BHP Billiton gained 2 percent to A$44.47 and Rio Tinto advanced 1.3 percent to A$80.00, while shares in iron ore producer Fortescue Metals jumped 4.6 percent to A$5.29, adding to strong gains last week.

Oil and gas producer Santos shares rose 0.8 percent to A$14.40 after the company said it is in talks to sell an equity stake in its Gladstone liquefied natural gas (LNG) export project, a move aimed at boosting its balance sheet to fund its suite of growth projects.   

Australian zinc miner CBH Resources shares slipped 3.5 percent to A$0.14 after the company confirmed it received a $137 million takeover offer from zinc metal producer Nyrstar.

Banks were firmer, gaining between 0.1 and 1.3 percent, with top lender National Australia Bank the biggest gainer with a rise of 1.3 percent to A$27.25.  

Seoul shares gave up earlier gains to finish in the red, weighed by losses in exporters but gains in shipbuilders and construction issues capped losses.

The Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) ended down 0.7 percent at 1,694.12 points.

Shares in POSCO rallied after a local media reported the world's No.4 steelmaker was planning to boost 2010 investments to 10 trillion won ($8.9 billion) and has set its 2010 operating profit target at 6 trillion won on sales of 30 trillion won, largely in line with market expectations.

POSCO was up 3.14 percent at 625,000 won, after hitting a session high of 633,000 won, their highest since early December, 2007.

Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering, the world's second biggest shipbuilder, rose 1.23 percent after saying on Saturday it had won orders totaling $750 million.

STX Offshore & Shipbuilding also gained 1.1 percent after announcing on Monday it had won an order to build four bulk ships from Turkey, declining to elaborate on its value.

The won's advance against the dollar weighed on technology and auto exporters.

Shares in LG Display, the world's No.2 maker of flat panels, fell 4.5 percent and Hynix Semiconductor shed 2.6 percent to 24,000 won. The country's top car maker Hyundai Motor lost 4.25 percent.

Japan markets are closed for 'Coming Of Age' holiday.

Hong Kong stocks advanced 1.4 percent as upbeat export data from China lifted confidence in the sustained growth of the world's third-largest economy.

The benchmark Hang Seng Index ended 0.5 percent higher.

Aluminum Corp of China rose 7.2 percent to the highest in more than 18 months, after China's top aluminum company and the world's third-largest alumina producer raised its alumina spot price by 7.1 percent to 3,000 yuan ($439) per tonne from Jan. 8.
Shares of China Shenhua Energy rose 1.8 percent on hopes that thermal coal prices will keep rising as a severe winter across China strains domestic supplies, sparking a jump in prices. The country's largest coal producer was up 3.15 percent at HK$40.90.

Shares in China's Cosco, the world's largest dry bulk ship operator, rose 6.8 percent to HK$10.90 as investors bet on the recovery for global trade.

Brokerages soared and were among the top percentage gainers in Hong Kong after the Chinese government announced it had granted approval in principle for the country's first index
futures and margin trading, boosting the outlook for the sector.

Shenyin Wanguo jumped as much as 13.49 percent to a five-month high of HK$4.88. Tanrich Financial Holdings rose as much as 14.49 percent to a near one-month high of HK$0.237. First Shanghai Investments gained as much as 14.79 percent to a 19-month high of HK$1.63.

But some analysts said the gains were unsustainable.

"Most Hong Kong brokerages can't benefit from the policy, since they are involved only in Hong Kong business," said Castor Pang, research director at Cinda International. "Investors are
only using this as an excuse to push prices up."

The Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.5 percent from Friday's close, but was far off an intraday high of 3,306.750 points hit in early trade.

Brokerages outperformed the broader market, buoyed by news of stock index futures being approved among other reforms and strong Chinese trade data.

But the index was sharply off its intraday high amid lingering worries of monetary tightening and a clampdown on asset prices.

Last week, the market fell by 2.5 percent amid worries over the central bank's move to tighten liquidity and the China Securities Regulatory Commission's move to add share supplies to clamp down on excessive asset prices.

The Chinese stock market is heavily influenced by government decisions and analysts said the latest policy trend signalled the index may only rise slowly in the near future.

After the market closed on Friday, the government announced that it had granted approval in principle for the country's first index futures and margin trading -- key reforms that will give the market badly needed hedging tools.

Top brokerage CITIC Securities, which jumped by its 10 percent daily limit, at the opening, was up 5.92 percent at 34.18 yuan by mid-morning. Smaller rival Haitong Securities added 4.0 percent to 19.80 yuan.

Banks, which are heavyweights in the index, also performed strongly as institutional investors bought the shares to have a bigger say in the derivatives when index futures are launched -- expected in about three months.

Top lender Industrial and Commercial Bank of China added 2.68 percent to 5.37 yuan.

The market was also buoyed by news on Sunday that growth in China's exports and imports last month blew past expectations, providing fresh evidence of the vigour of the economy.

Trading firm Xiamen ITG Group rose 6.74 percent to 15.83 yuan, but exporters did not outperform as trading companies are not among the mainstream sectors of China's stock market.

Property companies continued their downtrend of recent weeks weighed by fresh signs of the government's clampdown on asset prices. China Vanke fell 0.87 percent to 10.26 yuan.

China vowed on Sunday not to let foreign speculative investment affect the property market, the latest expression of official concern that real-estate prices are racing ahead too fast.

Taiwan stocks rose 0.81 percent, as Cathay Financial and other financial counters advanced after Cathay posted a better-than-expected quarterly net profit.

The key TAIEX share index climbed 67.40 points to 8,348.30, tracking Wall Street gains.

Cathay, the island's top financial holding company, jumped 1.32 percent to its higest intraday level since Nov. 17, lifting the financial sub-index 0.6 percent. On Sunday, Cathay reported a fourth-quarter net profit that beat market expectations, and is expected to have a better 2010 as a historical Taiwan-China deal takes effect on Jan. 16.

Taishin Financial rallied 4.3 percent, after it  returned to a net profit of T$8.3 billion last
year, from a T$1.64 billion loss in 2008.

TSMC and UMC, the world's two biggest contract chip makers, recovered from losses early in the session to trade 1.25 percent and 3.6 percent higher, respectively.

On Friday, the companies posted strong December sales, a trend that could last into this year as new technology products boost chip demand.

In Southeast Asia, Singapore shares gained ground on positive leads from overseas markets as investors looked past Friday's weaker-than-expected U.S. jobs data.

The benchmark Straits Times Index was up 0.4 percent. Commodity-linked stocks and shipping plays drove blue chips higher as investors bet on strengthening commodity demand, shipping rates. Golden Agri advanced 5.8 percent while Neptune Orient Lines rose 6.7 percent.

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