- The Washington Times - Friday, April 17, 2009

HONG KONG (AP) - Asian stock markets were mostly higher Friday as stronger-than-expected results from bellwether companies gave investors more reasons to hope the worst of the global recession was over.

Most markets followed Wall Street’s overnight advance, with technology shares like Japan’s Sharp and Sony among the day’s best performers, as the region headed for its sixth straight week of gains. Oil prices and the dollar sank modestly.

Investors, increasingly optimistic that the slide in world economic activity is starting to slow or turn around altogether, got another boost with upbeat results from leading international companies.

Nokia Corp., the world’s top mobile phone maker, said it was maintaining its outlook for the phone market and had beat analyst forecasts for sales during the first quarter. In financials, JP Morgan Chase became the latest U.S. bank to report solid earnings. Internet search firm Google also eked a higher profit.

There’s been a dramatic shift in sentiment in global markets since March. Now, with many stock benchmarks up 20 percent or more, investors have felt pressured to dip into the market out of fears of missing the year’s largest upswing.

“Everybody seems to be afraid of selling, so I think the rally still has a bit more to go,” said Henry Chan, Hong Kong-based head of Asian equities at Baring Asset Management, which oversees about $6 billion in regional equities.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 stock average added 158.88, or 1.8 percent, to 8,915.30. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 222.02, or 1.4 percent, to 15,805.01.

India’s main index jumped 3.1 percent and Australia’s benchmark was 0.4 percent higher.

Elsewhere, indexes in Shanghai and South Korea were off about 0.4 percent. Taiwan’s main stock measure posted the day’s steepest losses, losing about 4 percent.

Investors were encouraged by U.S. markets, where the Dow Jones industrial average closed up 95.81, or 1.2 percent, at 8,125.43, its first close above 8,100 since Feb. 9. The Dow is now up 24 percent since March 9.

Broad stock indicators rose by bigger percentages. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 13.24, or 1.6 percent, to 865.30

U.S. futures, however, pointed to a softer open on Wall Street. Dow futures fell 38 points, or 0.5 percent, to 8,025 and S&P 500 futures were down 4.5, or 0.5 percent, at 857.

Oil prices traded modestly lower, with benchmark crude for May delivery off 33 cents at $49.65 a barrel. The contract on rose 73 cents to settle at $49.98 overnight.

In currencies, the dollar slipped to 99.44 yen from 99.59 yen. The euro was lower at $1.3110 from $1.3194.

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