By V. Phani Kumar, MarketWatch
HONG KONG (MarketWatch) — Most Asian markets advanced Wednesday, with a rise in commodity prices and a surge in Chinese imports boosting resource stocks, while Japanese shares get support from the weak yen.
Japan’s Nikkei Stock Average /zigman2/quotes/210597971/delayed JP:NIK +1.27% rose 0.7% to 13,288.13, a closing level it hasn’t seen since Aug. 12, 2008.
China’s Shanghai Composite /zigman2/quotes/206600939/delayed CN:000001 +2.74% ended flat after a choppy trading session, but largely unmoved by Fitch Ratings’ downgrade on Tuesday of the country’s local-currency debt ratings.
Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 /zigman2/quotes/210598100/delayed AU:XJO +1.15% eased 0.2%.
A rush to sell gold in Japan
The weak yen has triggered a gold rush, literally, in Japan as families sell items to take advantage of prices that have soared in yen terms.
Commodity producers were bolstered by monthly Chinese data showing a strong growth in imports, although the rate of increase in exports slowed, leading to a surprise trade deficit for March.
The growth in imports “indicates that domestic consumption is showing signs of rising, which is in line with the central government’s policy and would be good for China long-term,” said Kim Eng Securities director for sales Andrew Sullivan.
In Japan, steel maker JFE Holdings Inc. /zigman2/quotes/204336633/delayed JP:5411 +2.03% /zigman2/quotes/203557603/delayed JFEEF -6.36% climbed 4.1% and commodities trader Marubeni Corp. /zigman2/quotes/210513544/delayed MARUY +0.95% /zigman2/quotes/202870197/delayed JP:8002 +0.78% rose 4.3%, while in Seoul, shares of steel major Posco /zigman2/quotes/209201002/composite PKX +1.39% /zigman2/quotes/201759282/delayed KR:005490 +2.28% gained 2.6%.
In Sydney, BHP Billiton Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/208108397/composite BHP +2.20% /zigman2/quotes/201448516/delayed AU:BHP +2.05% and Rio Tinto Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/200083756/delayed AU:RIO +1.50% /zigman2/quotes/202627887/composite RIO +2.37% advanced 1.7% and 2.7%, respectively, despite the broader market’s weakness, after data showing a rebound in Chinese iron-ore imports in March from a decline in the first two months of the year.
In Hong Kong, Aluminum Corp. of China Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/202960704/delayed HK:2600 +7.06% /zigman2/quotes/210453246/delayed CN:601600 +9.98% /zigman2/quotes/208051344/composite ACH +3.55% climbed 3.1%, and Jiangxi Copper Co. /zigman2/quotes/201668148/delayed HK:358 +2.68% /zigman2/quotes/201334192/delayed CN:600362 +4.13% /zigman2/quotes/204256025/delayed JIXAY -2.45% rose 1.1%, while in Shanghai, they rose 5.6% and 1.1%, respectively.
The broad advances followed a higher finish on Wall Street overnight, with the Dow industrials /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA +0.03% ending at a record-high level. But some analysts raised concerns over U.S. earnings growth — a key driver for sentiment in global markets.
“The current U.S. reporting season is set to be a modest one ... with over 100 companies of the S&P 500 /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +0.01% having already provided negative guidance for the first quarter,” said Perpetual head of investment market research Matthew Sherwood.
“Firms with exposure to the deterioration in Europe, the slowing in Asia and the U.S. dollar’s strength can expect some further downside risk to their numbers,” he said.
U.S. equity index futures were higher by late afternoon in Hong Kong, with Dow Jones Industrial Average futures up 30 points, or 0.2%, at 14,640.
Gains in Japan came amid expectations the U.S. dollar /zigman2/quotes/210561789/realtime/sampled USDJPY +0.0477% may soon cross the 100-yen level despite the pair’s inability to cross over the threshold Tuesday.
“We believe that it will only be a matter of time before this level is taken out,” said BK Asset Management managing director Kathy Lien.
A survey by the Nikkei newspaper, showing that two-thirds of corporate leaders expect business to improve because of the yen’s recent movements, also aided sentiment.
Among stocks sensitive to currency movements, Toyota Motor Corp. /zigman2/quotes/203803129/delayed JP:7203 +2.14% /zigman2/quotes/200537742/composite TM +1.78% added 1.1%, Canon Inc. /zigman2/quotes/207639533/delayed JP:7751 -0.65% /zigman2/quotes/210242912/composite CAJ -0.08% climbed 2% and Komatsu Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/204002437/delayed JP:6301 +2.26% /zigman2/quotes/206435044/delayed KMTUF +2.03% gained 1.7%.
Among banks, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc. /zigman2/quotes/207520099/delayed JP:8306 +1.44% jumped 5%, and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc. /zigman2/quotes/203656770/delayed JP:8316 +0.15% /zigman2/quotes/206471416/composite SMFG 0.00% soared 6.7%.
However, shares of banks and retailers retreated in Sydney after data showing that consumer sentiment weakened in April.
Among the blue chips, National Australia Bank Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/210431826/delayed AU:NAB +0.68% /zigman2/quotes/208329321/delayed NABZY -0.18% slipped 0.7%, and Woolworths Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/209906204/delayed AU:WOW +0.48% /zigman2/quotes/208623225/delayed WOLWF -3.57% slid 1.1%.
Shares of sportswear maker Billabong International Ltd. plunged 26.7% after the firm said it was in talks with a private-equity consortium over a takeover bid that was 45% below previous indicative offers.