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Most Asia markets up; Nikkei advances after reports of larger-than-expected stimulus plan

Bas Thuys | EyeEm | Getty Images

Asia markets mostly gained on Thursday, with Japanese shares advancing after local media reports suggested the government was preparing a sizable stimulus package.

In Japan, the benchmark closed up 128.33 points, or 0.77 percent, at 16,810.22, with stocks also receiving a boost from a relatively weaker yen.

Japan's Kyodo News reported, citing sources close to the matter, that the Japanese government was compiling stimulus package of at least 20 trillion yen ($188 billion) to help the domestic economy emerge from deflation, and to fend off possible adverse effects from Brexit.

Previously, the stimulus package was expected to be a little more than 10 trillion yen, said Kyodo News.

Chris Weston, chief market strategist at brokerage firm IG, however, said, "Most economists would still stress that genuine reform still needs to be addressed to really put Japan on the right path."

In South Korea, the Kospi fell behind regional peers to close down 3.24 points, or 0.16 percent, at 2,012.22.

Hong Kong's was up 0.87 percent. Chinese mainland markets also rose, with the composite closed up 11.28 points, or 0.37 percent, at 3,039.18, while the Shenzhen composite was up 2.33 points, or 0.11 percent, at 2,038.18.

Australia's ASX 200 closed up 23.67 points, or 0.43 percent, at 5,512.40, with most sectors rallying. The All Ordinaries Gold Index, which serves as a broad market indicator for the gold industry, closed down 4.56 percent, while the materials sub-index fell 0.54 percent.

Miner South32, which was spun off from mining giant BHP Billiton in 2015, said on Thursday that it was well-positioned to achieve its fiscal 2017 unit cost guidance, after completing a series of restructuring initiatives, including its Worsley Alumina, Illawarra Metallurgical Coal, Australia Manganese and South Africa Manganese operations. The company also announced fiscal 2016 production numbers that were largely in line with its forecast.

Alumina production for fiscal 2016 was at 5,296 kilo tons (kt), up 3 percent on-year. Aluminum production was down 4 percent on-year, energy coal production fell 8 percent on-year and manganese alloy production declined 46 percent on-year.

South32 shares closed down 1.35 percent. Among other major miners, Rio Tinto closed up 1.02 percent, Fortescue up 1 percent and BHP Billiton finished nearly flat at 19.24 Australian dollars a share.

Elsewhere, shares of McDonald's Holdings in Japan closed down 1.14 percent, erasing its nearly 9 percent gain in early trade, after reports said the company announced it would collaborate on the "Pokemon Go" game "soon."

The wildly popular game was supposed to have been rolled out in Japan on Wednesday according to a report from technology news portal TechCrunch. But, TechCrunch later reported, the launch was delayed by game-maker Niantic after internal communications detailing the launch from McDonald's, which is the game's sponsor in Japan, were leaked onto the internet.

Nintendo shares, which tumbled around 13 percent on Wednesday on the back of the news of the delay, closed up 0.85 percent on Thursday. The stock has surged more than 100 percent since the "Pokemon Go" mobile app was released on July 6.

In Singapore, Temasek Holdings, the investment arm of the government, confirmed wire reports from earlier this week by announcing an offer to buy the remaining shares in transport operator SMRT that it doesn't already own, and take the company private. Temasek will be paying an 8.7 percent premium to SMRT's last traded price at S$1.545 before a trading halt was issued last week. Temasek will buy out the remaining shares for 1.68 Singapore dollars per share.

The news comes after the Land Transport Authority (LTA) in Singapore last week agreed to buy rail assets from SMRT. The train operator has, in recent years, come under criticism over service disruptions.

In a note to clients, OCBC Investment Research recommended existing shareholders of SMRT accept the buyout offer.

"The scheme price of S$1.68 represents a 15.9 percent, 19.1 percent and 8.7 percent premium over our 12-month fair value estimate of S$1.45, consensus target price of S$1.41 and the last transacted price on last Friday before the trading halt, respectively," OCBC analysts said.

Daiwa Capital Markets analyst Jame Osman said the Temasek offer was a surprise for two reasons: first, he said, the sharp downward revisions to consensus forecasts seem to be at unfavorable odds with the timing of the privatization decision. Second, the privatization "appears to be a step away from the regulator's policy to separate 'nationalized' public transport infrastructure from a more liberalized and 'market-based' environment for operators," Osman said.

S&P Global Ratings said Wednesday it had revised its rating outlook on SMRT to stable from negative, affirming its AAA long-term corporate credit rating.

Shares of SMRT rose 6.80 percent to S$1.65 by mid-afternoon. Shares of Singapore's other rail operator, ComfortDelGro, fell 1.7 percent. Comfort DelGro, through its majority-owned SBS Transit, operates two rail lines in Singapore currently.

Elsewhere, shares of IMAX China in Hong Kong surged 5.57 percent, after the company announced earnings results. The company, which makes giant movie screens, reported its first-half 2016 revenue in Greater China was at $55.1 million, up 25.51 percent on-year.

IMAX China also signed 79 new theaters in the first half of 2016, up 339 percent from 18 theater signings on-year and compared with the 74 theaters signed in all of 2015.

"As a result of this momentum, we have raised our 2016 theater installation guidance to 115 theaters, up from the original guidance of 100 systems," said Richard L. Gelfond, chairman of IMAX China in a press statement.

In the currency market, the dollar maintained its strength against a basket of currencies, trading at 96.965, off a session high of 97.183, but up from levels near 96.00 in the previous week.

Asia-Pacific Market Indexes Chart

Among the major currency pairs, the Japanese yen weakened further against the greenback, trading at 107.15, compared with the 106 handle on Wednesday afternoon local time and levels near 100 two weeks ago.

The Australian dollar traded lower at $0.7493, compared with levels around $0.76 on Monday.

The euro traded at $1.1030, weaker than levels near $1.11 it at traded last week.

Traders will likely focus on the European Central Bank (ECB) monetary policy meeting on Thursday - it will be the first monetary policy meeting held by the ECB since the U.K. voted on June 23 to leave the European Union.

"The sell-off in the euro ahead of monetary policy meeting tells us that some traders are hoping for immediate action in the form of support for Italian banks or an extension of the end date for bond purchases," Kathy Lien, managing director of foreign exchange strategy at BK Asset Management, said.

"But we feel that the chance of a short squeeze in euro/dollar post-ECB is stronger than a steep sell-off."

Stateside, the ended at a record high for the seventh day in a row as better-than-expected earnings boosted optimism on Wall Street. Banks continued to turn in expectation-beating results, with Morgan Stanley reporting earnings of 75 cents per share versus consensus expectations of 59 cents.

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