The major markets across the Asia-Pacific region are trading in positive territory on Friday morning, taking cues from Wall Street, where the major indices ended in positive territory on increasing confidence that the downturn in the economy has slowed down and the economy can begin to recover sooner-than-expected. Financial stocks gained after JP Morgan reported better than expected results for the first quarter beating analysts' estimates. Technology stocks advanced after mobile phones maker, Nokia, said that it expects second quarter worldwide mobile device volume to be flat or show modest sequential growth.

A Commerce Department report showed that housing starts fell 10.8% to an annual rate of 510,000 in March from the revised February estimate of 572,000. Economists had expected starts to slip to 540,000 from the 583,000 originally reported for the previous month. The Labor Department said initial jobless claims fell to 610,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 663,000. Economists had expected jobless claims to edge up 658,000 from the 654,000 originally reported for the previous week. However, continuing claims rose to a new record high. The Philadelphia Federal Reserve said its index of regional manufacturing activity rose to a negative 24.4 in April from a negative 35.0 in March. While a negative reading indicates a contraction in the sector, the index increased by much more than expected.

The Dow closed up 95.81 points or 1.2% at 8,125, the Nasdaq closed up 43.64 points or 2.7% at 1,670 and the S&P 500 closed up 13.24 points or 1.6% at 865.

In Asian trading, crude oil is currently down $0.13 at $49.85 a barrel in electronic trading. Light sweet crude for May delivery ended at $49.98 on the New York Mercantile Exchange, up $0.73 for the session, amid choppy trading.

In Tokyo, the benchmark Nikkei 225 Index is adding 194.29 points or 2.24% to 8,950 and the broader Topix Index of all First Section Issues is gaining 15.04 points or 1.83% to 847.

On the economic front, Japan's service sector output was down a seasonally adjusted 0.8% month-over-month in February, posting an index score of 105.6, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said on Friday. The decline was worse than the 0.7% drop expected by economists and follows a 0.4% gain in January, a revised 1.6% decline in December and a 1.1% fall in November.

In the banking sector, Mitsubishi UFJ, Japan's biggest bank, is gaining 1.19%, Mizuho Financial is advancing 1.04%, Sumitomo Mitsui is rising 2.39%, and Resona Holdings is edging up 0.23%. Brokerage Nomura Holdings is adding 2.75%.

Among exporters, Canon is gaining 2.18%, Sony is surging up 5.73% and Sharp is adding 5.44%. Toshiba Corp reported group operating loss of around 250 billion yen for the year March 31, compared to its previous estimate of a loss of 280 billion yen. The company's shares are up 4.40%. Automaker Toyota is advancing 3.23% and Honda is rising 4.07%.

In the oil sector, Inpex is trading unchanged from the previous close, Nippon Oil is rising 2.87% and Showa Shell is edging up 0.77%. Trading house Mitsubishi Corp. is gaining 2.21%, Sumitomo Corp. is advancing 2.44% and Itochu is adding 2.81%.

Retailer Aeon Co. has set up a line of credit totaling 200 billion yen with several financial institutions, expanding its sources of funds amid capital market instability. The company also refinanced 175.4 billion yen in loans that had been due in the fiscal year ended February 28. The company's shares are gaining 2.88%.

In Australia, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index is adding 56.80 points to 3,833 and the broader All Ordinaries Index is adding 53.80 points to 3,779.

On the economic front, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that its import price index decreased 2.8% in the March quarter. The fall was driven mainly by lower prices for petroleum and related products as well as fertilizers. The Bureau's export price index fell 4.6% in the March quarter. The decline was attributed to lower prices for metalliferous ores and metal scrap, non-ferrous metals as well as petroleum and related materials. For the full year to the March 2009 quarter, the import price index was up 14.6%, while the export price index was up 42.8%.

In the mining sector, BHP Billiton is gaining 2.23% and rival Rio Tinto is rising 3.14%. However, gold miners are trading sharply lower after gold dropped to a ten-day low overnight. Lihir Gold is down 3.05%, Newcrest Mining is losing 4.30%, and Sino Gold is falling 2.59%

Among banks, Commonwealth Bank of Australia is rising 2.53%, National Australia Bank is gaining 2.55%, Australia and NZ Bank is adding 2.26% and Westpac is advancing 1.86%.

In the retail sector, David Jones is adding 1.31%, Harvey Norman is up 3.20%, Coles' owner Wesfarmers is gaining 3.02% and Woolworths is rising 3.05%. Woolworths said its sales for the third quarter, adjusted for Easter, increased by 6.5% to A$12.3 billion. Excluding petrol sales, sales rose 8.3%. The company forecasts full year sales, excluding petrol sales, to grow in the upper single digits.

Oil related stocks are trading mixed. Woodside Petroleum is edging up 0.57%, but Oil Search is losing 1.50% and Santos is easing 0.71%.

Engineering company United Group Ltd. has won an A$230 million contract to carry out work at Woodside Petroleum's liquefied natural gas project in Western Australia. Shares of United Group are up 0.51%.

In South Korea, the benchmark KOSPI Index opened Friday's session at 1,355, sharply higher than its previous close of 1,337, and is currently trading at 1,346, up 9.51 points, or 0.71%. Financials and technology stocks are leading the gains.

Financials are trading higher. KB Financial Group is adding 0.80%, Woori Finance is edging up 0.86, but Shinhan Financial is gaining 0.51%.

Technology stocks are trading higher. Hynix Semiconductor is rising 8.30%, LG Electronics is advancing 2.87%, and LG Display is gaining 3.05%. Market heavyweight Samsung Electronics is gaining 2.93%. In the auto space, Hyundai Motor is advancing 1.39%, and Kia Motor is gaining 1.75%, but Ssangyong Motor is declining 5.31%.

Among shipbuilders, Hyundai Heavy Industries is rising 0.23%, and Daewoo Shipping is adding 0.20%, while Samsung Heavy Industries is trading unchanged from the previous close.

Oil-related stocks are advancing. S-Oil is adding 0.40% and SK Holdings is edging up 0.50%.

The benchmark Hang Seng Index opened strongly higher at 15,946 compared to its previous close of 15,583, and is presently trading at 15,900, up 317.18 points, or 2.04%.

Telecommunications, property, financial and china-related stocks are all trading in positive territory on increasing optimism about a recovery in the global economy.

Among telecommunication stocks, Tencent is advancing 3.18%, Hutchison Whimpoa is gaining 1.14%, China Mobile is adding 1.67% and China Unicom is edging up 0.83%. Manufacturing services provider, Foxconn International, is advancing 6.00%.

Property stocks are also advancing. Sino Land is rising 5.25%, Henderson Land is advancing 4.53% and SHK Property is gaining 3.58%. Other property related stocks such as New World Development, Swire Pacific, Hang Lung Property and Wharf Holdings are also trading in positive territory.

Financial stocks are trading in positive territory. Index mover HSBC Holdings is gaining 2.35%, Hang Seng Bank is adding 1.42%, Bank of East Asia is edging up 1.14% and Bank of Communications is advancing 1.27%. Other major banks are trading higher.

China-related stocks are also seeing buying interest.. China Resources is gaining 2.55%, China Mercantile Holdings is advancing 2.80%. China Shenhua is adding 1.59% and China Overseas is rising 1.66%.

Resource stocks are trading mixed. While Aluminum Corporation of China, or CHALCO, is losing 5.38%, CNOOC is gaining 2.28% and Petrochina is edging up 0.44%.

Among the other major markets, China's Shanghai Composite Index is losing 22.35 points or 0.88% to 2,512 and Taiwan's Weighted Index is down 0.67% or 40.46 points at 5,957. The Jakarta Composite Index in Indonesia is gaining 19.83 points or 1.22% to 1,645 and the Singapore Strait Times Index is adding 0.89% or 16.88 points to 1,909.

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