Sun, Mar 07, 2004 - Page 10 News List

Asian stocks climb, led by exporters

RENEWED OPTIMISM Key regional benchmarks gained for a second week, as analysts ignore US jobs data and focus on the overall economic outlook


Asian stocks rose this week, led by exporters including Kyocera Corp and Samsung Electronics Co, after US economic reports strengthened optimism of a US-led global recovery that will fuel demand for Asian-made products.

The Morgan Stanley Capital International's Asia Pacific Index, which tracks more than 800 stocks in the region, posted its second winning week, rising 1.6 in the past five days. Japan's two stock benchmarks completed their best weeks this year. South Korea's Kospi index gained 2.5 percent.

The "US economy is looking a lot stronger than expected," said Kazunori Ohtomo, who helps manage the equivalent of US$1.9 billion at STB Asset Management Co in Tokyo. Improvements in the global economy are giving more reasons "for investors to buy stocks."

Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index registered the biggest decline in the region this week, shedding 3.3 percent. HSBC Holdings Plc, the world's second-biggest bank by market value, fell after reporting earnings that missed JP Morgan Chase & Co's estimate.

For the week, Japan's Nikkei 225 Stock Average and the Topix index both gained 4.5 percent. The Nikkei had the best week since the five days ended Aug. 15, while for the Topix it was the biggest weekly advance since Oct. 3.

Kyocera, the world's largest maker of ceramic packaging used to protect finished microchips, jumped 6 percent to ¥8,510 in the week. Honda Motor Co, which gets as much as 90 percent of its operating profit from North America, added 6.5 percent to ¥5,070.

Japanese exporters also rose after the yen fell to ¥111.43 per dollar, its lowest since November. A weaker yen lifts the value of goods sold overseas.

The MSCI Asia Pacific Index climbed 60 percent since a record low last April, amid signs of a pickup in the global economy.

The US economy expanded at a 4.1 percent annual pace in the fourth quarter, the US Department of Commerce said a week ago.

Economists had predicted the rate would be revised to 3.8 percent, based on the median forecast in a Bloomberg News survey.

The Federal Reserve said on Wednesday that the world's largest economy expanded in January and last month as employment and retail prices rose.

A separate index of factory employment from the Institute for Supply Management rose last month to its highest since December 1987.

Still, gains may be capped next week after a government report late yesterday showed US employers hired workers at a sixth of the pace expected by economists last month.

US employers added 21,000 jobs last month, compared with the median Bloomberg News survey forecast for 130,000 new jobs, as gains in productivity helped companies increase output without hiring staff. The unemployment rate held at 5.6 percent as more Americans gave up their search for a job.

"Some investors may take profits because the market has not performed as well as they expected," said Stella Lau, who helps manage US$1 billion at East Asia Asset Management Co in Hong Kong.

"Even though there are signs of economic recovery, there hasn't been any significant improvement in the job market."

Singapore's Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing Ltd, the world's fourth-largest supplier of made-to-order chips, rose 3.5 percent in the week to S$1.77. Singapore ships about a fifth of its products to the US.

Samsung Electronics, South Korea's largest exporter, rose 3.5 percent to 565,000 won. LG Electronics Inc, which gets 75 percent of sales overseas, climbed 4.8 percent to 69,400 won.

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