RTTNews - The Hong Kong stock market has ended firmly higher now in two straight sessions, jumping more than 1,000 points or 6 percent along the way. The Hang Seng Index has regained support at the 18,000-point plateau, and now analysts are pointing to further upside at the opening of trade on Thursday - especially if some key economic data from mainland China pans out.

Concurrent with the opening of the Hang Seng, China is poised to announce Q2 GDP numbers. Analysts are looking for a 7.8 percent increase on year following the 6.1 percent annual expansion in the first quarter. Also due are numbers for retail sales, inflation, industrial production and fixed-asset investment.

The global forecast for the Asian markets is broadly optimistic, thanks to solid earnings reports, encouraging remarks from the FOMC and some decent economic data out of the world's largest economy. A rebound among the commodities and crude oil prices adds to the positive sentiment. The European and U.S. markets finished sharply higher, and the Asian bourses are also predicted to show solid gains.

The Hang Seng finished sharply higher again on Thursday, spurred by positive earnings news from Goldman Sachs and Intel. Properties finished sharply higher, while the financials and airlines also put on solid gains.

For the day, the index surged 372.93 points or 2.1 percent to 18,258.66 after trading between 18,030.10 and 18,289.00 on turnover of 60.69 billion Hong Kong dollars.

Among the gainers, Cheung Kong gained 2.2 percent, while Sun Hung Kai Properties added 4 percent, Henderson Land was up 3.6 percent, HKEx climbed 3.8 percent, China Merchants surged 6.5 percent, Cosco Pacific rose 4.9 percent, Air China added 7.8 percent and China Eastern Airlines soared 11 percent.

Wall Street offers a sharply positive lead as stocks continued to move higher throughout much of Wednesday's trading session after a strong start, fueled by trader reaction to the day's earnings data. The major averages all posted substantial gains on the day, extending their gains for the third straight session.

Early strength came amid reaction to a slew of earnings reports, spearheaded by Intel (INTC), which beat analysts' second quarter earnings estimates. While Yum! Brands (YUM) also beat expectations, Abbott Labs (ABT) and Altera (ALTR) reported earnings that came in line with estimates.

Stocks were further bolstered in the afternoon following the Federal Reserve's announcement that it expects a less severe economic contraction in 2009 and a moderately stronger recovery in 2010. The minutes of the June meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee showed that the GDP estimates were revised to show a smaller than expected decrease in 2009 and a bigger than expected increase in 2010. At the same time, the Fed said it expects the unemployment rate to come in higher than previously estimated based on the incoming employment data.

The day's influx of economic figures was kicked off this morning by a Labor Department report showing that consumer prices saw a 0.7 percent increase in June compared to the previous month. Economists had projected an advance of about 0.6 percent. Compared to the same period last year, consumer prices were down 1.4 percent, the largest year-over-year decline since 1950. Core prices, which exclude the volatile food and energy sectors, advanced 0.2 percent compared to the previous month. Economists had expected an increase of 0.1 percent.

A separate report from the Federal Reserve indicated a continued decrease in industrial production in the month of June, although the rate of decline slowed by more than economists had been anticipating. With the slowdown, industrial production fell at its slowest pace since the 1.3 percent jump that was seen in October of 2008.

The major averages saw further upside in late day trading, finishing near their best levels of the day. The Dow closed up by 256.72 points or 3.1 percent at 8,616.21, the NASDAQ climbed 63.17 points or 3.5 percent to 1,862.90, and the S&P 500 rose 26.84 points or 3 percent to 932.68.

In economic news, China's foreign exchange reserves surged in June, reflecting an increase in confidence among foreign investors about the economy's recovery, an official report showed Wednesday.

Data released by the People's Bank of China showed that the foreign exchange reserves stood at US$ 2.131 trillion at the end of June, coming in higher than economists' expectations of US$ 2.021 trillion. China is only country to have reserves totaling more than US$ 2 trillion.

The central bank said the reserves increased by US$ 42.1 billion in June compared to a US$80.6 billion in May. Meanwhile, in the second quarter, the foreign exchange reserves climbed US$177.85 billion compared to a US$7.7 billion rise in the first quarter.

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