Most Asian markets higher despite oil price spike

HONG KONG - Most Asian stock markets rose Thursday, as optimism about U.S. jobs and a Federal Reserve move to help investment banks offset a spike in oil prices.

By (AP)

Published: Thu 31 Jul 2008, 6:28 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 1:04 PM

The Japanese Nikkei 225 index inched almost 0.1 percent higher to 13,376.81. Markets in South Korea, Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore also gained.

Investors got some reassurance about U.S. financials after the country's central bank acted to expand its lending program to Wall Street firms that have been hurt by the yearlong tightening in credit markets. Bank and brokerage stocks climbed on the news, helping lift the Dow Jones index more than 1.6 percent.

A surprisingly strong reading on U.S. jobs also gave traders some encouragement. The measure, showing private sector employment rose by 9,000 in July after falling in recent months, was a good sign for the world's largest economy. It also raised hopes that the U.S. Labor Department's take on the job market, to be released Friday, would beat expectations.

After oil shot up more than US$4 overnight, though, many investors were holding out for more insight on the U.S. economy and the direction of world commodity prices before any big buys, analysts said.

“It's somewhat of a mixed picture here," said Alex Tang, head of research at Core Pacific-Yamaichi in Hong Kong. “Investors are not quite convinced that the worst is over ... but there's not much selling pressure either. So the markets could move sideways for now."

By evening in Singapore, light, sweet crude for September delivery was changing hands around US$126 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract soared US$4.58 overnight after an unexpected drop in U.S. gasoline supplies.

Japan's modest gain was partly the result of technical buying, with some investors cautious over Japanese corporate earnings prospects.

“With high oil prices and fears over a slowdown in the global economy, investors were worried that Japanese companies, mainly exporters, might not do well for the upcoming quarters," said Masatoshi Sato, market analyst at Mizuho Investors Securities Co. Ltd.

Japan's top automaker, Toyota Motor Corp., fell 2.3 percent. Honda Motor Co. shed 0.3 percent.

Nintendo Co. dropped 8.7 percent after the maker of Super Mario and Pokemon video games on Wednesday kept its profit forecast for the fiscal year through March 2009.

Sony Corp. rose 0.7 percent. Its rival Matsushita Electrical Industrial Co., which sells products under its Panasonic brand, added 0.4 percent.

In Hong Kong, the blue-chip Hang Seng Index pared some of its gains to end about 0.2 percent higher at 22,731.10 points in thin trading.

Upstream oil producer CNOOC was among the day's best performers, up 3.7 percent thanks to higher crude prices. Refiner China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., or Sinopec, lost 1.8 percent.

Shipping firm China Cosco Holdings also was higher. Its shares surged 5.5 percent on an upgrade from analysts at JPMorgan Chase & Co. and speculation it might be added to the Hang Seng Index.

In financials, HSBC rose 0.3 percent. The bank is due to report its results Monday.

Mainland China shares, meanwhile, extended losses as investors shrugged off calls by the market regulator to keep prices stable ahead of the Beijing Olympic games.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index fell 2.2 percent to 2,775.72. The Shenzhen Composite Index dropped 2.9 percent to 827.59.

Comments by China Securities Regulatory Commission chairman urging securities funds to help keep the markets stable, carried in state-run newspapers, appeared to do little to boost sentiment.

“Buying sentiment is weak on disappointment over the lack of any actual moves taken by government. I'm afraid that most investors are still waiting for a real chance to trade, not this so-called Olympics market," said Zhang Yang, an analyst for Oriental Securities in Shanghai.

Heavyweight airlines and refiners led the decline on oil's rebound. Air China dropped 5.5 percent and China Eastern Airlines sank 4.3 percent.

Property shares also declined, with Poly Real Estate Group losing 7.4 percent.

Elsewhere, markets in Taiwan and the Philippines also fell.

In currencies, the dollar stood at 107.98 yen midafternoon in Tokyo, down from 108.09 yen in New York late Wednesday. The euro stood at US$1.5585, compared with US$1.5582 in New York.

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