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Stocks in Asia jump following better-than-expected Chinese economic data

Key Points
  • Mainland Chinese shares soared, with most major Asian markets following suit.
  • MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan added 0.94 percent, as of 3:18 p.m. HK/SIN
  • Factory activity in China jumped unexpectedly in March.
  • On the U.S.-China trade front, high-level trade negotiations between the two economic powerhouses were set to resume in Washington this week following last week's talks in Beijing.

Major markets in Asia surged on Monday following data released over the weekend that showed economic activity in China unexpectedly bouncing back in March.

Mainland Chinese shares soared on the day, with the Shanghai composite up 2.58 percent to 3,170.36, while the Shenzhen component surged about 3.64 percent to 10,267.70. The Shenzhen composite jumped 3.571 percent to 1,755.67.

Over in Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index was up 1.66 percent in its final hour of trading.

Both the private Caixin/Markit Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index and China's official Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) expanded unexpectedly in March, surprising analysts.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan added 0.94 percent, as of 3:18 p.m. HK/SIN

The Nikkei 225 in Japan jumped 1.43 percent to close at 21,509.03 as shares of index heavyweights Fast Retailing, Softbank Group and Fanuc all advanced. The Topix index also gained 1.52 percent to finish at 1,615.81.

Apple supplier Japan Display saw its stock surge 10.14 percent after the embattled company said it aimed to reach a financing agreement this week that would lead to a 60 to 80 billion yen (approx. $540 to $720 million) stock and bond issuance. Previous reports in January had suggested that Japan Display — suffering the impact of disappointing sales for Apple's iPhone XR — was in advanced talks with an investor group from Taiwan and China to bail out the company.

The closely watched "tankan" survey by the Bank of Japan, released on Monday, had shown worsening business confidence among the country's big manufacturers in the first quarter.

"The large manufacturing weakness is probably worrying for (the Bank of Japan) ... in the sense that the economy isn't picking up as quickly as perhaps as had been anticipated but the bigger issue ... is not the economy," Mitul Kotecha, senior emerging markets strategist at TD Securities, told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Monday.

Instead, Kotecha said inflation continues to be a bugbear for the Japanese central bank, where its target rate of 2 percent remains ever elusive.

Over in South Korea, the Kospi added 1.29 percent to finish at 2,168.28 as chipmaker SK Hynix saw its stock jump 3.23 percent.

Meanwhile, Australia's rose 0.59 percent to close at 6,217.00, with most sectors seeing gains.

Asia-Pacific Market Indexes Chart

China's economy bounces back in March

Manufacturing activity in China expanded unexpectedly in March after shrinking for three straight months, a private survey showed on Monday. The Caixin/Markit Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) came in at 50.8 for March.

The official Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI), too, rose to 50.5 in March from February's three-year low of 49.2, marking the first expansion in four months, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on Sunday. The 50-mark separates growth from contraction on a monthly basis.

"This is the first month in four that Chinese manufacturing activity has returned to growth and suggests a read through of Chinese macro policy growth support beginning to flow through into the economy," David de Garis, a director and senior economist at the National Australia Bank, said in a morning note.

"Looking ahead, there is now a decent chance that growth in China may bottom out slightly earlier than we had previously anticipated. That said, we still think growth could weaken again in the near-term," Capital Economics said in a note.

On the U.S.-China trade front, high-level trade negotiations between the two economic powerhouses were set to resume in Washington this week following last week's talks in Beijing.

Currencies and oil

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 97.143 after touching lows below 96.6 last week.

The Japanese yen traded at 111.09 against the dollar after seeing highs below 110.0 in the previous week. The Australian dollar — which tracks China's economic prospects with the latter being its largest trading partner — rose 0.42 percent to $0.7125 in the afternoon.

Oil prices gained in the afternoon, with the international benchmark Brent crude futures contract rising 1.04 percent to $68.28 per barrel and U.S. crude futures adding 0.71 percent to $60.57 per barrel.

— Reuters contributed to this report.