HONG KONG (MarketWatch) — Japanese stocks on Thursday ended at their best level in more than four years, standing out in Asia as other major markets suffered losses amid caution ahead of key central-bank decisions and economic data.
The Nikkei Stock Average /zigman2/quotes/210597971/delayed JP:NIK -0.65% rose 0.3% to 11,968.08, a closing level it hasn’t seen since September 2008, with exporters broadly advancing. The benchmark had earlier in the day topped the psychologically important 12,000-point level, but pared those gains after the Bank of Japan left its monetary policy unchanged.
Most other major markets fell, with China’s Shanghai Composite Index /zigman2/quotes/206600939/delayed CN:000001 -0.50% falling 1%, South Korea’s Kospi /zigman2/quotes/210598069/delayed KR:180721 -0.90% dropping 0.8%, Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 /zigman2/quotes/210598100/delayed AU:XJO -0.53% losing 0.2% and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index /zigman2/quotes/210598030/delayed HK:HSI -1.96% ending marginally lower.
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Hong Kong's soaring residential real-estate prices have prompted investors to turn to commercial space outside the crowded central business district.
The drop came as investors turned cautious ahead of a packed schedule of key central bank events and economic data. That included the European Central Bank and Bank of England decisions later Thursday, and the U.S. nonfarm payrolls data Friday.
Andrew Sullivan, head of sales trading at Kim Eng Securities, said that with U.S. markets near highs, “people are worried ahead of the data in case there’s a bad figure.” Read: Close calls on easing for ECB, Bank of England.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA -0.18% reached a record high Tuesday, after an improvement in a private-payrolls growth and a smaller-than-expected drop in factory orders. Read: Stocks gain as Dow extends record rise.
Dow futures were pointing to a likely higher opening Thursday, rising 25 points to 14,290.
Stock trading in Tokyo saw several exporters rise over the yen’s recent declines, amid optimism over the government’s efforts to spur the economy.
Mazda Motor Co. /zigman2/quotes/204777714/delayed JP:7261 +7.38% /zigman2/quotes/206646681/delayed MZDAF -2.30% jumped 4.6%, Nintendo Co. /zigman2/quotes/208063194/delayed JP:7974 -0.42% /zigman2/quotes/206371241/delayed NTDOF -2.74% spiked 4.8% and Bridgestone Corp. /zigman2/quotes/205589013/delayed JP:5108 -0.09% /zigman2/quotes/201520388/delayed BRDCF +0.64% rallied 4.2%.
Olympus Corp. /zigman2/quotes/200860615/delayed JP:7733 +0.81% /zigman2/quotes/203009041/delayed OCPNF +1.09% soared 5.5% after a Nikkei news report that the firm will slash more of its interest-bearing debt load than planned by the end of the next fiscal year in March 2014.
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At its policy meeting Thursday, the Bank of Japan left its interest rates and asset purchases on hold, but many economists expect action at next month’s meeting. Read: Bank of Japan stands pat ahead of new leadership.
Steel makers slipped, however, after a Nikkei report they will pay 33% more for iron ore in the April-June quarter than in the first three months of the year. JFE Holdings Inc. /zigman2/quotes/204336633/delayed JP:5411 +0.07% /zigman2/quotes/203557603/delayed JFEEF +1.58% dropped 1%, while Kobe Steel Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/207391157/delayed JP:5406 -3.10% /zigman2/quotes/204389518/delayed KBSTF +0.45% fell 1.6%.
Recent gains for ore caught the eye of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, which said late Wednesday that the price spikes in imported iron ore to China were due in part to unreasonable pricing mechanisms.
Among Australian iron-ore miners — key suppliers to the Chinese market — Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/204116626/delayed FSUMF -1.17% /zigman2/quotes/202351558/delayed AU:FMG -0.63% dropped 2.2%, while BHP Billiton Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/201448516/delayed AU:BHP -1.34% /zigman2/quotes/208108397/composite BHP -0.88% ended unchanged.
In its response to the NDRC’s allegations, BHP said it was committed to transparent prices in the iron ore market, according to a Reuters report.
Stocks in Hong Kong and Shanghai pulled back after two days of advances, with banks leading the way down.
In Shanghai, China Merchants Bank Co. /zigman2/quotes/210188047/delayed CN:600036 -1.34% /zigman2/quotes/208876947/delayed CIHKY -0.96% dropped 2.5% and Agricultural Bank of China Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/204629388/delayed CN:601288 0.00% /zigman2/quotes/207749118/delayed ACGBY -0.42% shed 2.4%; the stocks lost 0.9% and 1.3% in Hong Kong.