Asian Shares Mostly Higher On Growth Optimism

Asian stocks ended broadly higher on Friday as a continued decline in first-time claims for U.S. unemployment benefits spurred hopes of a faster economic recovery. Progress in the vaccine rollout and optimism about U.S. fiscal stimulus also underpinned sentiment.

Japanese shares ended sharply higher, with sentiment underpinned by upbeat earnings from domestic firms and U.S. stimulus hopes. The Nikkei 225 Index jumped 437.24 points, or 1.5 percent, to 28,779.19 while the broader Topix closed 1.4 percent higher at 1,890.95.

Automaker Mazda Motor surged 18.5 percent after cutting its loss forecast. Mitsubishi Motor climbed 8.1 percent and Nissan Motor added 7.5 percent.

NTT Data Corp. rallied 9.5 percent after a brokerage upgrade. Central Japan Railway and West Japan Railway gained 5-6 percent on economic recovery hopes.

Nidec, a maker of electric motors, rose 1.4 percent after it agreed to acquire Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Machine Tool Co. Ltd., a producer of equipment for automotive gears, from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. for about 30 billion yen. Shares of the latter tumbled 3.7 percent.

On the economic front, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications said that the average of household spending in Japan was down 0.6 percent year-on-year in December, coming in at 315,007 yen. That beat forecasts for a decline of 2.4 percent following the 1.1 percent increase in November.

Meanwhile, Chinese shares ended slightly lower as liquidity concerns continued to be a key market focus. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index slipped 5.53 points, or 0.2 percent, to 3,496.33, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index rose 175.18 points, or 0.6 percent, to 29,288.68.

Australian markets rallied to wrap up their best week since early November. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index climbed 75 points, or 1.1 percent, to 6,840.50, marking its strongest close since late February last year. The index jumped 3.5 percent for the week. The broader All Ordinaries Index gained 75 points, or 1.1 percent, to finish at 7,112.90.

The big four banks rose around 2 percent, while fund manager Magellan surged 5.8 percent after a broker upgrade.

News Corp. soared 13.2 percent as the media giant delivered its best quarterly result in at least seven years. Oil Search, Santos and Woodside Petroleum gained 1-2 percent after crude oil prices hit a fresh 12-month high.

Miner South32 fell 2.9 percent after a life extension for a coking coal mine in the Illawarra region was rejected by NSW’s independent planning commission.

In economic news, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said that the total value of retail sales in Australia was down a seasonally adjusted 4.1 percent month-on-month in December, coming in at A$30.368 billion. That follows the 7.1 percent spike in November.

Seoul stocks rebounded as signs of recovery from the pandemic boosted foreign buying of local stocks. The benchmark Kospi surged up 33.08 points, or 1.1 percent, to 3,120.63, led by financial and chemical shares.

Samsung SDI jumped 3.8 percent, LG Chem climbed 2.8 percent, SK Hynix advanced 2 percent and Samsung Electronics rose 1.2 percent.

In economic news, South Korea posted a current account surplus of $11.51 billion in December, the Bank of Korea said, up from $8.97 billion in November.

New Zealand shares eked out modest gains ahead of a three-day weekend, with Waitangi Day marked on Monday. The benchmark NZX-50 Index rose 61.73 points, or 0.5 percent, to 13,053.87, tracking gains in global markets.

U.S. stocks rallied overnight as investors cheered another batch of upbeat earnings from big-name companies and data showing a continued decline in first-time claims for U.S. unemployment benefits.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 1.1 percent to extend gains for the fourth straight session amid signs of progress on a pandemic-relief package, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite rallied 1.2 percent and the S&P 500 jumped 1.1 percent to hit fresh record closing highs.

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