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HSI leads gains as most Asian markets advance, tracking Wall Street rise

Asia markets mostly closed higher on Wednesday, with Hong Kong leading gains and several major indexes advancing more than 1 percent each, tracking Wall Street's rise on solid housing data.

Japan's Nikkei 225 closed up 258.59 points, or 1.57 percent, at 16,757.35, with shares receiving an additional boost from a relatively weaker yen against the dollar. Across the Korean Strait, the Kospi advanced 22.83 points, or 1.18 percent, to 1,960.51. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index ended up 537.62 points, or 2.71 percent, to 20,368.05.

Down Under, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 closed up 76.94 points, or 1.45 percent, at 5,372.51, led by gains in the heavily-weighted financials subindex, as well as the energy and materials sub-indexes.

Chinese mainland markets gave up morning gains to close lower, with the Shanghai composite down 6.38 points, or 0.23 percent, at 2,815.27, and the Shenzhen composite lower by 4.37 points, or 0.24 percent, at 1,800.22.

"Asian markets have had limited news flow to deal with today," said Chris Weston, chief market strategist at spreadbetter IG. "The bold moves [today] are a reflection of the belief that the global economy is actually not so shabby."

Symbol
Name
Price
 
Change
%Change
NIKKEI
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HSI
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ASX 200
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SHANGHAI
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KOSPI
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CNBC 100
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St. Louis Fed President James Bullard told CNBC Wednesday that U.S. labor data suggested it was time to pull the trigger on a rate hike. The U.S. central bank kept its target overnight interest rate in a range of 0.25 percent to 0.5 percent in its April meeting, indicating in its meeting minutes that June could be the time to hike.

Bullard said labor data was sending a clear signal. "I think we are at or beyond full employment in the U.S.," he said, though he acknowledged other economic data were not as strong.

In the currency market, the dollar traded nearly flat against a basket of currencies as of 4:02 p.m. HK/SIN, with the dollar index at 95.55, compared with its last close at 95.571. That's up from the 94 level the index traded at in the previous week.

Kathy Lien, managing director for foreign exchange strategy at BK Asset Management, said positive U.S. home sales data released Tuesday "validated the Federal Reserve's hawkish monetary policy stance."

"As more central bankers say that two or more hikes in 2016 is likely, the more investors start to realize that they are underestimating the Fed's commitment to normalizing monetary policy," she said.

The Japanese yen remained relatively weak against the dollar, with the pair trading at 110.00 as of 4:05 p.m. HK/SIN, a touch down from a previous session high of 110.18.

Major Japanese export stocks mostly closed higher, with Toyota shares adding 2.32 percent, Nissan up 1.49 percent and Honda gaining 2.4 percent. A weaker yen is a positive for exporters as it increases their overseas revenue when converted into local currency.

Matt Cardy | Getty Images

Lien added that she expected "the dollar to extend its gains and look for dollar/yen to head towards 112," as the market continued to price in its expectations for an imminent rate hike from the Fed.

Oil prices advanced in Asian hours on Wednesday, with global benchmark Brent futures up 1.36 percent at $49.27 a barrel as of 4:07 p.m. HK/SIN. U.S. crude futures added 1.38 percent to $49.29 a barrel.

Energy plays in the region closed mixed, with Santos up 2.64 percent, Oil Search up 2.92 percent and Inpex higher by 1.08 percent. Mainland Chinese oil stocks finished mostly lower, with shares of Sinopec down 0.17 percent and China Oilfield lower by 0.65 percent.

Overnight, oil prices jumped after data from the American Petroleum Institute showed U.S. crude inventories fell 5.1 million barrels last week, beating expectations from analysts, according to Reuters.

The market will also watch for the U.S. Energy Information Administration's official inventory numbers on Wednesday local time, Reuters said.

Weston added, "If we see a big draw down in the official report, then $50 oil is a reality, and we are back into the break-even levels of the U.S. shale gas companies."

The Australian dollar advanced in afternoon trade, up from levels around $0.7180 in morning trade to around $0.7202 as of 2:06 p.m. HK/SIN.

Experts said a combination of dollar strength and the Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Glenn Stevens' reaffirmation that the central bank was committed to inflation-targeting weighed on the Aussie overnight. Governor Stevens spoke on Tuesday to the Trans-Tasman Business Circle.

The Chinese yuan traded at 6.5590 against the dollar in the afternoon, down from a previous session high of 6.5648. Before market open, the People's Bank of China set the yuan mid-point at 6.5693 — the fixing was the weakest for the yuan since 2011 — compared with the previous day's fix at 6.5468.

China's central bank lets the yuan spot rate rise or fall a maximum of 2 percent against the dollar, relative to the official fixing rate.

In company news, Sony shares advanced 6.46 percent after the company released its earnings forecast for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2017. Sony said it expected operating income to come in at 300 billion yen ($2.72 billion) for fiscal 2017, a 2 percent increase from the 294.2 billion yen for the year ended March 31, 2016.

The company said the earthquakes that hit southern Japan in April disrupted operations and prevented them from making the earnings forecast earlier.

In Australia, Wesfarmers shares fell 0.17 percent. The company said in a statement that it will take impairment charges up of to 2.15 billion Australian dollars in fiscal 2016 due to poor market conditions and lower coal prices.

U.S. stocks ended higher overnight, following encouraging reports on the housing market. New home sales for April jumped 16.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 619,000 units in the U.S., the highest level since January 2008 and topping expectations, reported Reuters.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 1.22 percent, the S&P 500 rose 1.37 percent and the Nasdaq composite added 2 percent.

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