- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 16, 2009

HONG KONG (AP) - Asian stock markets rose Thursday before paring their gains as investors reacted to news that China’s economy suffered its slowest quarterly growth in at least a decade as the financial crisis battered global trade.

After opening sharply higher, most of the region’s major markets sold down after Beijing said the world’s third-largest economy grew by 6.1 percent from a year earlier in the first quarter _ down from 6.8 percent the previous quarter.

Despite the slowdown, other economic figures in China were more upbeat, analysts said. A surge in industrial production, as the government poured money into state owned companies, was among the signs for many investors that China’s economy may have already hit bottom.

Following an historic run-up in stock markets over the last five weeks, traders have begun bracing for a pullback.

“The strength in the market that we saw last week even ahead of a long holiday … told me a lot of people were underweight the market and there was still a lot of money on the sidelines waiting to jump in,” said John Mar, co-head of sales trading at Daiwa Securities SMBC Co. in Hong Kong.

“But it’s getting harder and harder to find stocks that are very cheap relative to the economic backdrop we are dealing with, which is implying we may be close to the top.”

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 stock average was up almost 3 percent before selling off to trade nearly flat, up 0.10 points at 8,743.06. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng also dipped into the red before climbing 23.94, or 0.2 percent, to 15,693.56.

Trading was also choppy in mainland China, where the Shanghai index gained 6.50, or 0.3 percent, to 2,542.55. Elsewhere, South Korea’s Kospi added 0.6 percent and Australia’s main index rose 0.7 percent.

Overnight in the U.S, stocks were lower for most of the day before jumping in the last hour of trading after the Federal Reserve released a report showing glimmers of hope in U.S. business conditions.

The Dow added 109.44, or 1.4 percent, to 8,029.62. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 10.56, or 1.3 percent, to 852.06.

U.S. futures suggested Wall Street would open lower Thursday. Dow futures fell 25 points, or 0.3 percent, to 7,955 and S&P 500 futures gained 2.5, or 0.3 percent, to 846.

Oil prices crept to near $50 a barrel as investors brushed off poor economic news from the U.S. and eyed a possible second-half recovery in crude demand.

Benchmark crude for May delivery rose 45 cents to $49.70. The contract on Wednesday dropped 16 cents to settle at $49.25.

In currencies, the yen slipped to 98.92 from 99.35. The euro weakened to $1.3185.

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