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Asian stocks mostly advance after Wall Street's overnight rally

Key Points
  • Asian stocks mostly gained on Wednesday.
  • U.S. stocks jumped overnight as the major indexes all rose more than 2% each on the day.
  • The moves came as U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the central bank will "act as appropriate to sustain the expansion."

Stocks in Asia gained ground during Wednesday trade, following an overnight rally on Wall Street.

Japan's Nikkei 225 jumped 1.80% to close at 20,776.10, with shares of index heavyweight Fanuc surging 2.99%. The Topix index also gained 2.07% to end its trading day at 1,530.08.

Shares of conglomerate Softbank Group jumped 3.02% after the company announced Tuesday that it expected to book a profit of 1.2 trillion yen (approx. $11.1 billion) from the sale of shares in Chinese tech giant Alibaba.

Over in South Korea, the Kospi rose 0.1% to close at 2,069.11, with shares of automaker Hyundai Motor gaining 1.44%.

Mainland Chinese stocks ended the trading day largely unchanged, shedding earlier gains. The Shanghai composite and Shenzhen component were close to flat at about 2,861.42 and 8,746.05, respectively. The Shenzhen component rose slightly to approximately 1,494.77.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index rose more than 0.2%, as of its final hour of trading, Hong Kong-listed shares of Chinese telecommunications equipment maker ZTE soared around 4%.

Australia GDP

The ASX 200 in Australia also added 0.41% to close at 6,358.50 as majority of the sectors rose. The financial subindex gained 1.19%, as shares of the country's so-called Big Four banks advanced: Australia and New Zealand Banking Group added 0.9%, Commonwealth Bank of Australia rose 1.24%, Westpac jumped 1.36% and National Australia Bank gained 0.79%.

Australia's economy grew less than expected in the first quarter, according to data on Wednesday. Gross domestic product grew 0.4% in the first three months ended March, slightly lower than a 0.5% increase that economists polled by Reuters predicted. The data came a day after the Reserve Bank of Australia cut its cash rate to a record low.

The Australian dollar last changed hands at $0.7000, after touching an earlier low of $0.6985.

One strategist said it was "difficult to see it getting much better anytime soon."

"I think what today's report does do is it suggests that the RBA is probably going to have to cut its forecasts yet further," Robert Rennie, global head of market strategy at Westpac Bank, told CNBC's "Street Signs" on Wednesday. "And we're expecting a further two times 25 basis point rate cut from ... the RBA. One in August, one in November, and that's probably something that should continue to undermine the Australian dollar as we move through to the end of this year."

Asia-Pacific Market Indexes Chart

Wall Street rally

Overnight on Wall Street, stocks jumped as the major indexes all rose more than 2% each on the day. The Dow Jones Industrial Average surged 512.40 points, or 2.1% to 25,332.18. The jumped 2.1% to 2,803.27 and the Nasdaq Composite surged 2.7% to 7,527.12. The major indexes had their second-best day of 2019.

The moves stateside came after U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell signaled that the central bank was open to easing monetary policy to support the economy.

He said the central bank will "act as appropriate to sustain the expansion." He noted, however, the Fed does not know "how or when" global trade issues will be resolved. "We are closely monitoring the implications of these developments for the U.S. economic outlook," he added.

Powell's comments came amid increasing expectations for a Fed rate cut. The CME FedWatch tool indicated about a 90% chance of a September rate cut. Expectations for a second rate cut in December were also above 80%.

The Fed chair's speech "hit the right balance appeasing equity markets by confirming the Fed stands ready to act in order to sustain the current economic expansion if trade tensions hamper US economic growth," while also rejecting "the recent aggressive pricing of Fed rate cut expectations," National Australia Bank senior foreign exchange strategist Rodrigo Catril wrote in a note.

"I think chairman Powell has given a message to markets that is indicating that a rate cut is coming. This is in essence a very strong signal that the (Federal Open Market Committee) is ready to actually talk about cutting rates," Sarah Bloom Raskin, a former governor at the Federal Reserve, told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Wednesday.

Trade developments

Investors also cheered comments made by the Chinese Commerce Ministry, which said in a post that the "differences and frictions between the two sides" should be dealt with through talks, according to a Google translation. Market watchers took those remarks as a sign of possible easing of trade tensions between Beijing and Washington after each country hiked tariffs on billions of dollars worth of each other's goods in May.

But, the post also said talks "need to be based on mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit."

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is set to meet with People's Bank of China Governor Yi Gang at a gathering of G-20 finance leaders this weekend in Japan, Reuters reported. The meeting would mark the first face-to-face meeting between the two countries in nearly a month, according to the news agency.

On the U.S.-Mexico trade front, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said Tuesday he expects both countries to find common ground on immigration and trade, despite U.S. President Donald Trump threatening to slap tariffs on all imports coming from Mexico. For their part, Republican lawmakers have indicated their opposition to the tariffs on Mexican goods. They have also hinted at blocking those levies if the president moves forward with them.

Currencies

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 97.066 after climbing above 97.2 on Tuesday.

The Japanese yen traded at 108.08 against the dollar after touching levels around 107.9 in the previous session.

Oil prices declined in the afternoon of Asian trading hours, with international benchmark Brent crude futures slipping 0.65% to $61.57 per barrel, while U.S. crude futures fell 0.86% to $53.02 per barrel.

— Reuters and CNBC's Fred Imbert contributed to this report.