- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2009

HONG KONG (AP) - Asian stock markets rose Wednesday as investors shrugged off more gloomy signs in leading regional economies _ China, Japan and South Korea _ amid the deepest global slowdown in decades.

Automakers and financials helped push markets higher, with another upswing on Wall Street overnight further buoying sentiment, as the region opened the month and new quarter by adding to its recent rally. The dollar and oil prices slipped.

The advance came despite new data underlining export-driven Asia’s continuing struggles 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 many analysts are bracing for a reversal if corporate earnings and economic figures point to more trouble 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.”

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 and South Korea’s Hyundai gaining 5.47 percent. Investors are closely eying U.S. car companies General Motors and Chryslers _ both struggling to survive as a government deadline to restructure looms _ to see how they their troubles would impact Asian rivals.

Elsewhere, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng trimmed its losses to trade virtually flat at 13,578.85 in an erratic session. Shanghai’s key index was up 1.4 percent, and Taiwan’s benchmark added 2 percent and India’s Sensex gained 0.9 percent to 9,795.26

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 92 points, or 1.2 percent, while S&P; 500 futures were down 9.8 points, also 1.2 percent.

Oil prices fell in Asian trade, with the May contract for benchmark crude off $1.01 at $48.65. Overnight, the contract rose $1.25 to settle at $49.66.

In currencies, the dollar weakened to 98.76 yen from 99.17 yen. The euro slipped to $1.3201 from $1.3257.

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