RTTNews - The stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region opened higher on Friday tracking the overnight rally on Wall Street, but are currently trading off their highs following the recent strong gains and as investors turned cautious ahead of the weekend. Commodity stocks advanced on the back of higher base-metal and gold prices, while energy stocks gained following the rise in crude oil prices.

U.S. stocks closed higher on Thursday, thanks in part to strong demand for the Treasury Department's latest bond auction. Following a disappointing start on the heels of disheartening employment data, stocks staged a substantial recovery. The major averages all finished the day firmly in positive territory, with the Dow snapping a four session losing streak.

The U.S. Commerce Department revealed its final revision to the first quarter gross domestic product. The report indicated that first quarter GDP contracted by a revised 5.5 percent compared to the 5.7 percent decrease that had been reported.

Crude oil extended gains in Asian trades Friday and is currently trading at US$70.57, up $0.34 or 0.48%. On Thursday, crude oil prices rose in trading amid more violence in Nigeria. Light sweet crude for August delivery climbed to US$70.23 on the New York Mercantile Exchange, up US$1.56 on the session.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar is trading weaker against the major Asian currencies. In Tokyo, the dollar is trading in a range of 95.84-95.86 yen, down 0.50 yen from Thursday's close of 96.34-96.36 yen. In Sydney, the Australian dollar is trading in a range of US$0.8026-US$0.8028, up from Thursday's close of US$0.7993-US$0.7996.

In Seoul, the South Korean won is trading at 1287.2 won to the U.S. dollar, up 1.7 won from Thursday's close. In Wellington, the New Zealand dollar is buying US$0.6451, compared to US$0.6416 in late trades Thursday.

The Japanese stock market opened higher on Friday, tracking the strong finish overnight on Wall Street. The market has pared most of its gains subsequently, but is still trading in positive territory.

In late morning trades, the benchmark Nikkei 225 Index is adding 30.2 points or 0.31% to 9826.28 and the broader Topix Index of all First Section Issues is gaining 3.27 points or 0.36% to 923.04.

The Japanese market posted broad advances on Thursday. The Nikkei 225 index gained 205.76 points or 2.15% to close at 9,796.08.

On the economic front, consumer prices in Japan contracted at the fastest pace on record in May. Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications reported Friday that the overall Consumer Price Index fell by 1.1% in May, and Core CPI, which excludes volatile fresh food prices, also fell 1.1%. Falling energy prices and lower employment led to the lower price readings. For the Tokyo Metropolitan area, which is seen as a leading indicator for the national picture, overall CPI for June contracted 1.5%, while Tokyo Core CPI was down 1.3%.

In the banking sector, Mitsubishi UFJ is trading in positive territory, while Resona Holdings and Mizuho Financial are trading modestly lower. Shinsei bank is also trading lower by more than 1%. Shares of Sumitomo Mitsui Financial are unchanged. Brokerage Nomura Holdings is up more than 1%.

In the tech space, Advantest and Kyocera are trading higher, while Tokyo Electron is unchanged. Among export-oriented stocks, Canon and Komatsu are trading higher by 0.5%-1%, while Sharp is trading lower by almost 1%.

Among auto stocks, Honda and Mazda are trading modestly lower, while Toyota is trading lower by more than 2%. Nissan is up almost 2%. Shares of Suzuki rose more than 6% after a report said that Volkswagen AG is considering taking a stake or around 10% in the company, as part of a planned cooperation between the two automakers.

In the oil sector, Inpex is gaining more than 1% and Nippon Oil is up almost 4% after the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported that a group of three Japanese companies, including Nippon Oil and Inpex, is in the final stage of talks with Iraq to acquire a development interest in the Nassiriya oil field in that country. Meanwhile, shares of Showa Shell are trading lower.

Among trading houses, Mitsubishi Corp is down 1%, while Mitsui & Co. and Itochu are trading marginally higher.

Tire maker Bridgestone said Thursday that it will likely post a group net loss of 46 billion yen in the six months through June 2009, compared to the previously expected loss of 62 billion yen. The company also said it will probably break even in the full year through December. Shares of the company are currently up more than 6%.

Kirin Holdings said on Thursday it has sold its 3.7% stake in France's Pernod Ricard for about 378 million euros, or US$528.2 million. However, the company's stock is down almost 1%.

Fujitsu America said it won an outsourcing contract from U.S. data-processing firm Alliance Data Systems Inc with an annual value of more than $40 million. The deal is the first of its kind for Fujitsu in the world's biggest market for information technology services. Shares of the company are up more than 2%.

Shares of convenience store operator Lawson are gaining more than 2% after the Nikkei business daily reported that the company likely posted a group pretax profit of some 12 billion yen in the March-May quarter, up 3% year on year.

The Australian stock market is trading higher on Friday, following the overnight rally on Wall Street. Higher commodity and oil prices helped lift resource stocks. Banking stocks are also trading in positive territory.

In early morning trades, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index is up 40.10 points or 1.04% to 3,896.10 and the broader All Ordinaries Index is gaining 39.70 points or 1.03% to 3,891.20.

The Australian stock market closed higher for the second straight session on Thursday, with resources stocks leading the market higher. The S&P/ASX200 index advanced 49.0 points or 1.3% to close at 3,856.0, while the All Ordinaries index advanced 49.3 points or 1.3% to settle at 3,851.5.

The markets have little to digest in terms of economic news on Friday.

Among the resources leader, global mining leader BHP Billiton and rival Rio Tinto are trading lower by almost 1%. BHP Billiton is said to be starting a formal process to offload its Ravensthorpe nickel operation in Western Australia along with its Yabulu refinery. Gold miners advanced on the back of higher gold prices, with Newcrest Mining, Newmont Mining and Lihir Gold up more than 1% each.

Copper and gold producer Oz Minerals may be an acquisition target after clearing its debt, according to reports. The company's planned sale of its Martabe gold and silver project in Indonesia for US$211 million has cleared the final hurdle after the transaction was approved by the shareholders of the Chinese buyer. However, the company's stock is down 1.61%.

In the oil sector, Woodside Petroleum, Santos and Oil Search are trading higher by 1-1.5%. Caltex Australia forecast profit for the first half-year to rise as much as 50%, on higher refiner margins. The company's shares are up almost 4%.

Among the major banks, Australia and NZ Banking Group, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, National Australia Bank and Westpac are trading higher.

Qantas, the biggest customer of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, said it deferred delivery of 15 Boeing 787-8 aircraft by four years and canceled orders for 15 Boeing 787-9 aircraft slated for delivery in 2014-15. The canceled orders will save the company US$3 billion in capital expenditure. Shares of the company are gaining almost 2%.

ABB Grain said that the Foreign Investment Review Board has told it has no objection to the company's proposed A$1.6 billion tie-up with Canadian agribusiness Viterra Inc. The company's stock is trading down by less than 0.5%.

The South Korean stock market opened higher on Friday tracking the overnight rally on Wall Street. However, the market has pared most of its gains and is currently trading barely in positive territory as investors remained cautious in the absence of any particular upward momentum.

In late morning trades, the benchmark KOSPI index is trading at 1,395.30, up 2.57 points or 0.18%.

The South Korean market extended gains and ended in positive territory on Thursday, led by technology stocks and on bargain hunting. The KOSPI index ended at 1,393, representing a gain of 28.94 points, or 2.12%.

In the tech space, market heavyweight Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics and LG Display are trading higher by 0.15%-2.5%. However, Hynix Semiconductor is trading lower.

Automaker Hyundai Motor is trading slightly lower, while Kia Motors is down more than 2%. Shares of Ssangyong Motor are up almost 2%. Among steel makers, Hyundai Steel is trading marginally lower, while Posco is gaining almost 1.5%.

In the oil sector, SK Holdings is trading higher by almost 0.5%, while S-Oil is down by less than 0.5%. Energy stock KEPCO is trading modestly higher.

Banking stocks are mostly trading lower. Korea Exchange Bank is up more than 1%, while Woori Finance, Shinhan Financial and KB Financial are trading lower by 0.8%-2%. Telecom stocks are trading mixed. SK Telecom is up more than 1%, while KT Corp. is losing more than 1%.

Shares of Daewoo Shipbuilding are up more than 2% after the company said it has won a $200 million deal from Greece's biggest ferry operator, Attica Holdings SA, to build two ferry vessels.

The New Zealand stock market opened higher on Friday after receiving a positive lead from Wall Street, where U.S. stocks closed higher as traders there went bargain hunting. The higher close of the U.S. stocks was also prompted by a strong demand for the Treasury Department's latest bond auction.

The benchmark NZX 50 index was up by 16.18 points or 0.58% to 2,786.84 shortly after the market opened for the day, while the broader NZX All Capital index posted a gain of 13.53 points or 0.48% to 2,852.04.

The New Zealand market closed higher on Thursday following the release of data showing the nation's first-quarter trade deficit narrowed. The benchmark NZX-50 index advanced 30.85 points or 1.13% to close at 2,770.66.

In early trades Friday, market leader Telecom remained unchanged, second ranked Contact Energy is advancing 0.70% and Fletcher Building, the third best stock, is adding 1.72%.

In the retail sector, Hallenstein Glasson, jewelry retailer Michael Hill International and Pumpkin Patch remained unchanged. Warehouse is trading modestly higher.

In the energy sector, Vector is up almost 1%, while TrustPower is unchanged. Among the dual-listed issues, AMP, Australia and NZ Banking Corp, APN News & Media, Lion Nathan, Telstra and Westpac Bank are all unchanged.

Among other notable stocks, Infratil, Mainfreight, Nuplex, Sky City and Sky Network Television are trading higher. Steel & Tube Holdings is down more than 1.5%, while Methven is unchanged. Fisher & Paykel Appliances is down almost 1.5%, while Fisher & Paykel Healthcare is up 1%.

Other Asian markets:

Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index is gaining 145 points or 0.79% to 18,420, Singapore's Straits Times Index is up 21 points or 0.90% to 2,323, Taiwan's Weighted Index is adding 4 points or 0.07% to 6,462 and Indonesia's Jakarta Composite Index is adding 4 points or 0.19% to 2,048. Meanwhile, China's Shanghai Composite Index is losing 2 points or 0.06% to 2,923 and Malaysia's KLSE Composite is down 2 points to 1,072.

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