- The Washington Times - Monday, April 13, 2009

HONG KONG (AP) - Asian markets gained more ground Monday as Japan’s new $150 billion stimulus plan and upbeat news about Chinese bank lending boosted hopes for recovery in the region’s major economies.

Trade was thinner than normal with many investors still away for a public holiday and several markets closed. A stronger dollar combined with Tokyo’s latest measures helped exporters like Mazda and Nissan. Oil prices slipped to near $51 a barrel.

Japan’s newest effort, unveiled Friday, calls for 15 trillion yen ($150 billion) in government spending and aims to arrest an economic slide caused by the unprecedented drop in global demand. The world’s second-largest economy is struggling through its most painful recession since World War II.

The move is part of a worldwide effort by governments to restore growth. China’s stimulus measures have become a major source of optimism among investors in Asia.

News that Chinese bank lending surged last month reinforced a belief that Beijing’s massive government spending and easier fiscal policies will lead consumers and businesses to sink more money into the economy and help China stage a quicker recovery.

Loans in March surged to a record high of almost 1.9 trillion yuan (about $279 billion), Chinese media reported over the weekend.

Signs that economies and the financial system may stabilize in the coming months have led investors back to equities en masse over the past few weeks, though any surprisingly bad news could trip up the spring rally. This week, they’ll be watching closely quarterly corporate results from major banks such as Citigroup, JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs.

“We still have a number of hurdles that we’re going to have to jump in the coming weeks, and this could keep the markets somewhat uneasy,” said Thomas Lam, senior economist at the United Overseas Bank in Singapore. “But compared to say a month or two ago there is obviously a general sense that fear is receding in the market.”

Chinese stocks led the region with Shanghai’s main index climbing 2.8 percent to 2,513.70.

South Korea’s Kospi gained 2.22, or 0.2 percent, to 1,338.26 with car companies especially strong after the government announced almost $400 million in aid for the country’s auto industry. Hyundai Motors added 2.2 percent .

Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock average fluctuated throughout the day before closing down 39.68 points, or 0.4 percent, to 8,924.43, though the nation’s auto giants were higher. Mazda gained 3.9 percent and Nissan climbed 2.5 percent.

Eslewhere, Taiwan and Singapore stock measures were up 1-2 percent. Hong Kong, India, Thailand, New Zealand and Australia were closed for a public holiday Monday.

U.S. markets, closed Friday for a holiday, were set to reopen Monday. Wall Street futures were down, suggesting a weak opening after stocks jumped Thursday. Dow futures fell 47 points, or 0.6 percent, to 7,970 and S&P500; futures lost 5.7 points, or 0.7 percent, to 846.90.

Oil prices fell toward $51 a barrel Monday in Asia after the International Energy Agency said it expects global crude demand to drop this year amid the worst worldwide recession in decades.

Benchmark crude for May delivery fell 92 cents to $51.32 a barrel. The contract on Thursday rose $2.86 to settle at $52.24 a barrel. Trading was closed on Friday for the Good Friday holiday.

In currencies, the dollar gained to 100.67 yen from 100.23 yen. The euro rose to $1.3210 from $1.3185.

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