Stocks in Hong Kong and Singapore rose for the first week in six after their governments reported progress in slowing the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome.
For the week, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index gained 4.8 percent, while Singapore's Straits Times Index advanced 5.7 percent. The week's gains were the first since the five days ended March 21.
Hong Kong yesterday reported 11 new cases of SARS, tying the previous low for fewest increases since the outbreak of the deadly disease in March. Singapore yesterday announced two more infections, with no new victims in 48 hours.
"SARS is a temporary issue; it will go away," said Bich Pham, a managing director at TAL CEF Global Asset Management Ltd, a unit of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. TAL CEF Global Asset Management invests US$300 million in the Asia Pacific region. "You are now seeing half of the people no longer wearing masks, so the sentiment is stabilizing. We have seen the worst."
Concerns about the disease pushed shares lower in Taiwan, where the benchmark TWSE index ended the week down 1.1 percent.
The nation on April 27 stopped granting visas to visitors from areas affected by SARS. That may hurt business for companies with factories in China.
In the US, both the Standard & Poor's 500 Index and the Nasdaq Composite Index climbed for a third week, their longest winning streaks since November, amid optimism economic and profit growth will pick up following the end of the war with Iraq.
The S&P 500 gained 3.5 percent, the Nasdaq jumped 4.8 percent, the Dow Jones Industrial Average added 3.3 percent.
Property developers in Hong Kong such as Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd rose as fewer reported cases of SARS increased optimism that the economy may recover.
Sun Hung Kai Properties rose 7.2 percent this week, while Cheung Kong (Holdings) Ltd advanced 6.1 percent. The stocks were the fourth and fifth biggest gainers in the benchmark index.
Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd, Asia's fifth-largest carrier by sales, jumped 14 percent this week after the stock lost more than a quarter of its value during the previous four weeks. The company on April 30 said bookings for June fell by about half because of the SARS outbreak.
Singapore Airlines Ltd, Asia's most profitable carrier, rose 15 percent this week, leading gains in the Straits Times Index.
The carrier on April 30 said it would cut more flights, lowering its total capacity by 29 percent, because of SARS.
Singapore's health ministry said yesterday the country, the third-most infected by SARS worldwide with 203 cases, reported no new cases in four out of the past six days. Earlier this week, the World Health Organization said SARS cases in Singapore had probably peaked.
Taiwan's stock benchmark ended the week lower. The US
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an advisory recommending that travelers avoid Taiwan, where officials today reported 2 new SARS cases, bringing the total number of infections to 100.
"The SARS damage to Taiwan's economy hasn't been fully reflected in stock prices," said Barro Liao, who manages US$52 million at Prudential Securities Investment Trust Co.
Quanta Computer Inc, Taiwan's No. 1 notebook computer maker, was the biggest drag on the index, dropping 8.3 percent for the week. Chunghwa Picture Tubes Ltd ended the week 21 percent lower and was the second-biggest contributor to the index's drop.