- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

HONG KONG (AP) - Most Asian stock markets extended their rally Tuesday, with Tokyo’s index up more than 3 percent, as investors poured into banking shares amid easing fears about the world’s hard-hit financial system.

Investors were relieved after Britain’s Barclays PLC revealed it was performing well so far in 2009. In Hong Kong, Standard Chartered PLC, which focuses heavily on Asian and other emerging markets, also reported a strong start to the year.

The two are just the latest major banks to offer reassurances about their earnings after similar upbeat assessments from U.S. heavyweights Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp. that fueled the recent rally in world equity markets.

The move higher came despite a lackluster finish Monday on Wall Street, where stocks gave up early gains and ended marginally lower after a four-day advance.

Market watchers were skeptical the turnaround would last, saying the gains were unjustified given troubles still plaguing economies and corporations in Asian and beyond amid the most severe global downturn in decades.

“I don’t think it’s a real rally,” investment guru James Rogers, chairman of Singapore-based Rogers Holdings and author of “A Bull in China” and other investment books, said in an interview in Hong Kong. “This is nothing more than a normal rally after too much selling, being too much oversold.”

Rogers said he expected the economic crisis to worsen in 2010 and was staying away from the equities markets.

Dariusz Kowalczyk, chief investment strategist for SJS Markets in Hong Kong, said he expected a correction this week. He said news expected this week from the U.S. Treasury Department about its bank bailout plan might lead investors to reconsider their optimism about bank balance sheets.

“This would be a good opportunity to take some profits,” Kowalczyk said. “The gains we have seen so far fully take into account the positive news we’ve heard from Barclays and the U.S. banks.”

In Tokyo, the Nikkei 225 stock average jumped 244.98 points, or 3.2 percent, to 7,949.13, and South Korea’s Kospi surged 3.4 percent to 1,156.78.

Hong Kong’s market erased an afternoon gain, sending the Hang Seng index down 90 points, or 0.7 percent, to 12,885.81.

Markets in Australia, China, Singapore, Thailand and Taiwan also rose, while Indian shares fell.

Asian financials continued to post strong gains, with leading Japanese lender Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc. surging 8.2 percent. HSBC climbed 4.1 percent in Hong Kong, while Australian investment bank Macquarie Group Ltd. jumped 9 percent.

Overnight in New York, the Dow closed down 7.01 points, or 0.1 percent, to 7,216.97, after rising as much as 169 points during the session. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 2.66, or 0.4 percent.

U.S. stock index futures turned higher, suggesting Wall Street would advance at the opening Tuesday. Dow futures were up 30 points, or 0.4 percent, while S&P; 500 futures were up 1.4 points, or 0.2 percent.

Oil prices dipped. Light, sweet crude for April delivery was down 67 cents at $47.68 a barrel in Asian electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In currencies, the dollar rose to 98.63 yen from 98.22 yen late Monday in New York, while the euro rose to $1.2993 from $1.2969.

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