Fri, Feb 15, 2008 - Page 11 News List

Asian stocks climb after surprise jump in US sales

RISK AVERSE Investors welcomed data showing Japan's economy grew 0.9 percent in the last quarter, and bonds were weaker as investors moved toward riskier positions

AGENCIES , HONG KONG

Asian stocks powered higher yesterday after a surprise increase in US retail sales and unexpectedly strong growth in Japan's economy eased some of the pessimism that has gripped the region.

The US dollar held around a one-month high against the yen, while Asian bonds slid as investors became less risk averse.

Platinum hit a record high as power supply problems afflict major producer South Africa, while oil prices climbed amid an intensifying legal row between Venezuela and ExxonMobil.

"Buoyant US economic data combined with a perception that markets have seen lows are prompting buying interest," said Hwang Geum-dan, an analyst at Samsung Securities.

The rise in US retail sales last month lifted hopes that Asia's top export market might yet skirt recession, and buoyed exporter shares such as LG Electronics that depend on US consumers to drive profits.

MSCI's measure of Asian stocks outside Japan rose 1.7 percent. The index had dropped more than 13 percent this year as of Wednesday as fears of a US recession and a financial sector reeling from a global credit crisis had soured many on Asian stocks.

Investors also welcomed data showing Japan's economy grew 0.9 percent in the last of quarter of last year, double the market forecast, with external demand and capital spending particularly strong.

"There's no question that these figures, which were much better than expected, seem to point to good growth in the present quarter as well," said Masayoshi Okamoto, head of dealing at Jujiya Securities.

The Nikkei benchmark stock average was up 3.1 percent, with exporters such as Sony Corp also lifted by a weakening Japanese yen.

Shares in exporters also helped South Korea's main index gain 2.6 percent, Singapore stocks rose 2.4 percent, while Australian shares gained 2.2 percent, spurred by gains in miners and banks.

Australia's jobless rate in January fell to the lowest in the history of the series, though that added to concerns that a tight labor market was fuelling inflation and underlining the need for yet another rise in interest rates.

Asian bonds dropped as investors became more comfortable shifting away from safe positions.

Japanese government bond futures fell nearly half a point on the back of the stronger-than-expected economic data, with March 10-year JGB futures down 0.18 point at 137.76.

Australian bonds also fell as the market priced in a greater chance of another rise in the 7 percent cash rate on the back of inflationary pressures.

The yen held steady against the dollar after the US currency jumped on Wednesday's retail sales data.

In early Asian trade, spot platinum hit US$1,995 an ounce, before slipping to US$1,980/US$1,990.

US crude oil futures edged up a few cents to US$93.36 a barrel. Venezuela and Exxon Mobile have been mired in a legal dispute over the South American country's takeover of a multibillion-dollar oil project.

Mizuho Financial Group Inc climbed for the first time in seven days after Japanese gross domestic product expanded at the quickest pace in three quarters. Samsung Electronics Co and Toyota Motor Corp led companies that rely on US revenue higher. Rio Tinto Group jumped after reporting higher profit.

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