Wednesday, markets across the Asia-Pacific region saw broad based gains, as investors went on bargain hunting following recent losses. Investors looked past the swine flu headlines and cheered reassuring U.S. economic data, which pointed to a turnaround in the world's largest economy. The Japanese market remained closed on account of Showa Day.
In Asian trading on Wednesday, crude oil hovered near $50-a-barrel ahead of the release of oil inventory data by the U.S. Energy Department. Analysts expect crude oil inventory to rise by 1.8 million barrels. Gasoline stocks are also expected to be higher by 900,000 barrels. As per the crude oil inventories released by the American Petroleum Institute, crude oil stockpiles rose 4.58 million barrels.
Stocks on Wall Street ended modestly lower overnight, as traders digested mixed economic and corporate news combined with continued concerns that the swine flu outbreak may become a pandemic. Reports about the early results of stress test analysis of U.S. banks also added to investor jitters.
In economic news, a report released by the Conference Board showed that that the consumer confidence index jumped to 39.2 in April from an upwardly revised 26.9 in March. Economists had expected the index to increase to 29.7 from the 26.0 originally reported for the previous month.
Separately, a report from Standard and Poor's showed that the S&P/Case-Shiller 20-City Composite Home Price Index fell at an annual rate of 18.6 percent in February, a modest deceleration from the 19.0 percent drop in prices that was reported for January. The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 0.1%, the Nasdaq Composite edged down 0.33% and the S&P 500 index ended down 0.27%.
The Australian market closed lower, led by losses in the financial sector after ANZ bank reported lower first-half profit and bigger provisions for bad debts. The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index closed at 3,695, down 13 points or 0.35% and the broader All Ordinaries index fell 10 points or 0.27% to 3,662.
ANZ plunged 7.40% after its first half profit fell more-than-expected 28% on rising bad debts. Other banking stocks also followed through. National Australia Bank declined 3.48% after Citigroup cut its earnings estimate and rating on the stock to sell from hold. Commonwealth Bank fell 2.73% and Westpac Banking tumbled 4.31%, but investment bank Macquarie Group rose 0.19% ahead of the release of its annual results on Friday.
Big miners closed mixed despite the declines in base metal prices overnight. While BHP Billiton rose 0.59%, Rio Tinto moved down 0.41% and Iluka Resources gained 1.82%
Among gold miners, Newcrest Mining fell 1.74% and Newmont eased two cents to $5.76, but Lihir Gold rose 1.70%.
Fortescue Metals Group tumbled 4.13% after the iron- ore miner cut its full-year sales forecast by 15 percent to 26 million tones. Sydney Airport owner Macquarie Airports fell 1.13% after reporting a 19% fall in first quarter earnings.
Ausenco surged up 10.58% on news that it was well positioned to take advantage of opportunities in green energy business. OZ Minerals jumped 5.19% after producing better-than-expected results at Prominent Hill.
Energy stocks closed mostly firm. Oil Search rallied 4.52% and Santos rose 0.86%, but Woodside Petroleum slipped 0.21%. Insurers also closed stronger. QBE Insurance rallied 4.74%, Henderson Group added 2.01% and AXA Asia Pacific closed up 0.26%.
Building products supplier James Hardie rose 0.23% despite being ordered by a Chilean court to pay $13.4 million ($A19 million) in damages to a former competitor. ABB Grain advanced 3.80% on the receipt of a conditional, non-binding takeover bid from Canada's Viterra Inc
Qantas Airways rose 3.19% after falling sharply recently on concerns of swine flu outbreak. Agribusiness and automotive components supplier Futuris Corp added 2.41% as it begins trading on the ASX on Thursday under the old Elders name.
Among retailers, Woolworths gained 1.14% and David Jones rose 0.67%, but Harvey Norman Holding fell 1.68%.
On the economic front, new home sales in Australia rose 4.2% month-over-month in March, representing the third straight month of increase, a report by the Housing Industry Association showed Wednesday.
The South Korean market snapped a three-day losing streak on bargain hunting. Positive trade data released by the South Korean central bank also helped improve sentiment. South Korea saw a record current account surplus in March at $6.65 billion, the Bank of Korea said on Wednesday. That follows the 3.56 billion surplus in February.
The benchmark KOSPI closed at 1,338, up 38 points or 2.94%. Volume was at 591.29 million shares worth 5.58 trillion won (US$5.54 billion) and advancers outnumbered decliners by 681 to 134.
Hynix Semiconductor rallied 4.29% on reports about selling off part of its machinery in the assembly lines for around 500 billion won to ease the impact of a global slump in the microchip industry.
LG Electronics jumped 4% after it was picked to supply third-generation (3G) mobile handsets to all three carriers in China. Market heavyweight Samsung Electronics rose 1.91% and LG Display LCD advanced 1.61%
Banking stocks bounced back after recent losses. Korea Exchange Bank rallied 4.94%, Woori Finance jumped 6.26% and KB Financial, the holding firm of Kookmin Bank advanced 5.79%.
Shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries rose 2.99%, Samsung Heavy Industries gained 2.43% and Daewoo Shipbuilding added 2.71%. Among automakers, Ssangyong Motor closed up 1.69% and Hyundai Motor added 2.82%.
Among other notable stocks, steel maker POSCO rose 2.37%, energy stock KEPCO rallied 5.38%, oil stock S-Oil gained 2.76% and SK rose 1.77%, telecom stock KT moved up 2.07% and SK Telecom closed up 0.27%, Korean Airline advanced 2.44% and Asiana Air Line closed up 1.81%.
The New Zealand market finished modestly higher, as investors eyed high-yielding stocks ahead of central bank's rate decision meeting on Thursday. Fonterra's higher forecast payout to farmers for milksolids at $5.20 per kg, also helped improve investor sentiment. The benchmark NZX-50 closed at 2,700, up 13 points or 0.49%.
Market heavyweight Telecom extended its gain with a 0.37% rise after reaching an 11-week intra-day high on Tuesday. Contact Energy reversed its previous day's decline, jumping 4.14% on low volumes.
Tourism Holdings surged up 6.38% on reports that the 'free and independent traveler' market will boost opportunities for growth in motor home rentals in both Australia and New Zealand.
Among other notable gainers, retailer Warehouse Group rose 0.57%, Sky city closed up 0.73%, Steel and Tube jumped 4.91%, NZX advanced 1.17%, energy stock TrustPower rose 0.42%, Vector advanced 0.47%, Fisher & Paykel Healthcare moved up 1.33%, PGG Wrightson gained 0.79% and Kiwi Income Property added 1.11%.
Telstra closed down 0.24% after the Australian competition watchdog rejected the company's application for a A$30 month charge on rivals for access to copper wire between exchanges and homes or offices.
Air New Zealand fell 1.83% and Aukland Airport closed down 0.60% amid worries over swine flue. Seafood exporter Sanford closed down 0.88% due to the strengthening of the New Zealand dollar.
Jeweler Michael Hill tumbled 3.70%, children's clothing retailer Pumpkin Patch fell 3.36% and Port of Tauranga declined 1.82%, while Fletcher Building, Hallenstein Glasson and Nuplex closed unchanged.
In economic news, New Zealand's Finance Minister, Bill English said the government will run a deficit this year, and will do so for the foreseeable future. Due to the difficult economic and fiscal circumstances that the nation experiences over coming few years, the government is considering the future of income tax cuts planned for 2010 and 2011, as well as the government's contributions to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, English revealed.
Separately, business confidence in New Zealand increased significantly in April, with the balance rising to minus 14.5 from minus 39.3 in March, a monthly survey from the National Bank showed Wednesday.
The Chinese market closed sharply higher after three consecutive days of declines. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index, which tracks both A and B shares, rose 67 points or 2.78% to 2,468, the highest closing in more than a week. Trading volume for the Shanghai Composite Index rose to CNY123.5 billion ($18.1 billion) from CNY92.3 billion Tuesday. Banks rose on bargain hunting, property shares recouped some of their recent losses, coal producers rose on higher prices and auto- makers gained on expectations that Beijing may cut car purchase taxes further.
The Hong Kong market snapped its two-day losing streak amid encouraging US consumer confidence report and house price data. The benchmark Hong Kong's Hang Seng closed at 14,957, up 402 points or 2.76%.
The Indian market rallied on the back of consistent buying in index heavyweights, helped by short covering and favorable cues from the other Asian and the European markets.
IT and banking stocks are leading the rally, while capital goods and healthcare stocks are showing modest gains. Benchmark for the Indian market, the Sensex was last trading at the day's high of 11,409, up 408 points o r3.70% over the previous close.
Among the other markets in the region, Singapore's STI Straits Times index gained 2.28% and Taiwan's TWII Weighed index rose 0.31%.
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