Stocks in Asia rise after news of potential US tariff exemptions; China exports top forecasts

  • Markets in Asia clawed back gains after sliding in the last session.
  • The White House said recently announced tariffs on steel and aluminum imports could include potential exemptions.
  • Oil prices edged slightly higher after settling more than 2 percent lower on Wednesday.
  • China exports in February rose 44.5 percent, beating expectations.

Markets in Asia closed higher on Thursday, with stocks clawing back gains after sliding in the last session on trade-related fears. Gains in the region came after U.S. stocks closed above session lows on fresh developments related to planned metals tariffs.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 index rose 0.54 percent, or 115.35 points, to close at 21,368.07 and the Topix closed up 0.35 percent.

The Topix Iron & Steel index rose 0.56 percent as steel producers mostly clung to gains. Kobe Steel rose 3.02 percent and JFE Holdings added 0.2 percent, although Nisshin Steel slipped 0.36 percent. Technology names mostly traded higher, with Nintendo rising 4.06 percent.

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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Elsewhere, South Korea's Kospi advanced 1.3 percent to close at 2,433.08 on a strong showing in the technology space. Large cap Samsung Electronics rose 1.19 percent, with Samsung Heavy jumping 8.79 percent.

Steel producers gained on the back of tariff-related developments out of Washington, with Posco up 3.02 percent and Hyundai Steel rising 3.15 percent by the end of the day.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index jumped 1.69 percent, or 509.64 points, by 3:05 p.m. HK/SIN as all of its sectors traded in positive territory. The heavily weighted financials sector was firmly higher: HSBC advanced 0.72 percent and insurer AIA added 3.03 percent ahead of the market close.

Mainland China markets closed higher, with gains steepening after the release of upbeat trade data. The Shanghai composite added 0.54 percent to close at 3,289.29 and the Shenzhen composite rose 1.01 percent to finish at 1,856.47.

Meanwhile, health care and consumer stocks were the best-performing sectors on the blue chip CSI 300 index.

The gains came after Chinese exports in February jumped 44.5 percent from one year ago, Reuters reported. That was above the median 13.6 percent rise estimated in a Reuters poll.

Down Under, the S&P/ASX 200 tacked on 0.69 percent to close at 5,942.90. Most of the index's sub-indexes notched gains, although the materials and energy sectors were in the red after commodities struggled in the last session.

Possible US tariff exemptions

U.S. stock indexes, which had initially tumbled following Gary Cohn's resignation from the Trump administration, pared some losses after the White House hinted that Mexico and Canada could be exempt from planned metals tariffs.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders on Thursday said recently announced tariffs on steel and aluminum imports could include "potential carve-outs ... based on national security." The president is expected to sign off on the tariff plan this week, she said.

While that was positive news for Canada and Mexico, trade-related concerns were unlikely to completely evaporate.

"[T]he potential for more, rather than less tariffs for China and Europe, remains the key risk," said Rodrigo Catril, a senior FX strategist at National Australia Bank, in a morning note.

Cohn, Trump's top economic advisor and a free trade advocate, had resigned after the president announced last week that tariffs of 25 percent and 10 percent would be implemented on steel and aluminum imports, respectively.

Markets also found "further reprieve after White House trade advisor Peter Navarro indicated he was not a candidate to replace the outgoing Gary Cohn," Mizuho Bank economist Zhu Huani wrote in a note.

The greenback was steady against a basket of currencies, with the dollar index trading at 89.585 at 2:48 p.m. HK/SIN after touching a two-week low of 89.407 in the last session.

Against the yen, the dollar last traded at 105.96, slipping once more below the 106 level after closing at 106.80 on Wednesday. The U.S. currency had dipped from the 106.1 handle to levels around 105.5 on the back of Cohn's resignation during Wednesday Asia hours.

Meanwhile, oil pared some losses after tumbling in the previous session due to trade concerns. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude advanced 0.16 percent to trade at $61.25 per barrel after settling 2.3 percent lower on Wednesday. Brent crude futures were up 0.16 percent at $64.44.

On the data front, fourth-quarter gross domestic product in Japan was revised higher to 1.6 percent from an initial estimate of 0.5 percent, Reuters said. That was also above the 0.9 percent increase projected in a Reuters poll.

Of note, the Bank of Japan began its monetary policy meeting on Thursday.

The European Central Bank, meanwhile, will announce its rates decision during European hours. The central bank is expected to remain cautious and keep its policy unchanged.