- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2009

HONG KONG (AP) - Most Asian stock markets advanced Wednesday, with Tokyo’s benchmark gaining 3 percent, as shares in exporters and financials led the region higher. European markets fell.

Car companies like Honda Motor Co. and Hyundai Motor Corp. were among the day’s best performers as the dollar gained in recent days and as their U.S. rivals struggled for survival. Another upswing on Wall Street overnight further buoyed sentiment.

The advance came despite new data underlining export-driven Asia’s continuing woes as plummeting demand in industrialized countries batters global trade.

In China, the contraction in the country’s critical manufacturing sector _ which accounts for about 40 percent of the world’s third-biggest economy _ accelerated last month, according to a key survey. Meanwhile, confidence at Japan’s major manufacturers dived to an all-time low. And South Korean exports sank 21.2 percent in March, the fifth straight monthly decline.

Asian markets have surged in recent weeks as nascent signs of stabilization in the U.S. economy and banking sector helped turn around sentiment about the outlook for the global economy.

But some investors are bracing for a reversal should corporate earnings and economic figures point to more distress in the region.

“You definitely need good numbers to sustain this upward momentum, and the numbers coming from companies and about economic activity are not particularly strong,” said Alex Tang, head of research at Core Pacific-Yamaichi International in Hong Kong. “If we keep seeing further deterioration, we’re going to hit resistance.”

In Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 fell 0.7 percent, Germany’s DAX was off 1.1 percent and France’s CAC-40 shed 1.4 percent as world leaders gathered for the Group of 20 summit meeting in London.

Earlier in Asia, Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 stock average rose 242.38 points, or 3 percent, to 8,351.91, while South Korea’s Kospi added 2.3 percent to 1,233.36.

Both markets were driven higher by strong gains in automakers, with Honda Motor jumping 6.7 percent, Nissan Motor Co. vaulting 10 and South Korea’s Hyundai gaining 5.5 percent.

Investors are closely eying faltering American car companies General Motors and Chrysler _ their fate hanging in the balance as a government deadline to restructure looms _ to see how they their troubles would affect Asian rivals. Also helping automakers was market speculation that the U.S. and Japan may consider new incentives to lure consumers to buy fuel-efficient cars.

Elsewhere, Shanghai’s key index climbed 1.5 percent to hit a seven-month high as investors brushed off a new survey, by brokerage CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets, showing manufacturing shrank for an eighth month in March. Analysts said investors had already factored in such possible bad news.

Stock measures in Taiwan and India were higher by nearly 2 percent.

Hong Kong was one of the few down markets, with the Hang Seng down 56.48, or 0.4 percent, to 13,519.54 in an erratic session. Australia’s benchmark was flat.

Among other major Asian exporters, Sony Corp. added 6.4 percent in Tokyo. In financials, KB Financial Group Inc., the holding company for a top South Korean lender, added 2.7 percent.

In Japan, chipmaker Elpida Memory Inc. was the Nikkei biggest gainer, surging 14.7 percent to 780 yen on news that it had been chosen as a technology partner by Taiwan Memory Co. _ an entity set up by Taiwan’s government to boost the sector.

In the U.S. overnight, the Dow rose 86.90 points, or 1.2 percent, to 7,608.92, while the broader Standard & Poor’s 500 index added 10.34 points, or 1.3 percent, to 797.87. European benchmarks also closed higher.

Wall Street was headed for a modestly lower open as U.S. futures lost ground. Dow futures were down 69 points, or 0.9 percent, while S&P; 500 futures were down 8.3 points, or 1 percent, at 786.50.

Oil prices fell in Asian trade, with the May contract for benchmark crude off $1.35 at $48.31. Overnight, the contract rose $1.25 to settle at $49.66.

In currencies, the dollar gave up some of its gains to soften to 98.92 yen from 99.17 yen. The euro slipped to $1.3210 from $1.3257.

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