By Chris Oliver, MarketWatch
HONG KONG (MarketWatch) -- Hong Kong stocks tapped a six-year high on Friday, with property companies leading the charge, while other markets in the region also advanced.
The Hang Seng vaulted in mid-session trading on strength from property stocks Cheung Kong Holdings and Sung Hung Kai Properties on the notion that a plateau in U.S. interest rates could perk up home buyers in Asia.
However, shares in Japan ended flat on concerns a slowdown in the U.S. economy could trigger a domestic cooling there. Traders were also cautious ahead of a closely watched U.S. jobs report, which could provide important clues to the health of the economy.
The Nikkei 225 Average /zigman2/quotes/210597971/delayed JP:NIK -0.39% ended down 0.04% at 16,134.25. The broader Topix Index closed down 0.1% at 1,633.35. Hang Lung Properties /zigman2/quotes/200230831/delayed HK:101 -0.33% rose 3.14%, to rank as the top-gaining property blue chip.
Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index /zigman2/quotes/210598030/delayed HK:HSI -1.09% gained 31.45 points to 17,423.72, after earlier striking the six-year high. The China Enterprises Index, a gauge of leading mainland-incorporated companies listed in Hong Kong, rose 0.2% to 6,892.97.
"People are optimistic the interest rate in Hong Kong will remain stable, that's why property stocks became the leading momentum plays," said Castor Pang, a strategist with Sung Hung Kai Financial in Hong Kong.
He added weak U.S. consumer consumption data released Thursday flagged additional concerns over the health of the U.S. economy, sparking expectations the Federal Reserve will continue to pause on the interest rate front. Hong Kong interest rates move in line with U.S. interest rate owing to its currency peg to the dollar.
Hong Kong stocks
Among the leading blue-chips developers, index heavyweight Cheung Kong /zigman2/quotes/208405501/delayed HK:1 -0.79% rose 0.8% to HK$86.55. Hang Lung Properties /zigman2/quotes/200230831/delayed HK:101 -0.33% rose 3.14% to rank as the lead-gaining property blue chip.
Shares of Air China /zigman2/quotes/203408003/delayed HK:753 -1.86% gained 6% despite the carrier reporting Thursday a narrowing of net profit for the first half. The second of China's big three airlines, China Eastern Air /zigman2/quotes/203578936/delayed HK:670 -4.19% jumped 6.7%. Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific Airways /zigman2/quotes/203532437/delayed HK:293 -0.19% was up 1.1% .
Among mainland energy plays, refiner Sinopec /zigman2/quotes/202085942/delayed HK:386 -0.47% /zigman2/quotes/202783176/composite SNP -0.26% was the sole advancer, gaining 1.7%. Shares of China Mobile /zigman2/quotes/200868736/delayed HK:941 -0.97% /zigman2/quotes/204514293/composite CHL -0.84% rose 0.5%, gaining for a sixth consecutive day and notching a fresh six-year high. For business news in Chinese, see Chinese.WSJ.com.
Utilities stocks were higher after index compiler Hang Seng Index Services Ltd announced it would boost the weighting of the sector from next week. Electric company China Light & Power Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/204954538/delayed HK:2 -0.43% rose 0.9%.
Shares of Foxconn International Holdings /zigman2/quotes/205017351/delayed HK:2038 0.00% , a mobile-handset maker, jumped 8.5% to HK$22.30 after the company reported first-half net profit more than doubled to US$302 million. The result coincided with a release from the index compiler HIS Services saying it would add the company to it's the blue chip Hang Seng Index from next week. A unit related to Foxconn produces iPods under contract for Apple Inc.
Japan in focus
Among standouts, Japan's Asahi Tec soared 22% to 313 yen after announcing it will buy privately held U.S. auto-parts maker Metaldyne Corp. for $1.2 billion in an effort to improve its ability to supply parts overseas.
Shares of chip-equipment Kyocera Corp. /zigman2/quotes/204880749/delayed JP:6971 -0.27% /zigman2/quotes/205094593/delayed KYOCF +0.75% trimmed earlier loses to end lower 0.7%. Advantest Corp. /zigman2/quotes/206869087/delayed JP:6857 -0.89% /zigman2/quotes/202479540/delayed ADTTF -9.55% gained 1.5%, adding to sharp gains Thursday. Toshiba /zigman2/quotes/203922036/delayed TOSBF -5.01% /zigman2/quotes/205628942/delayed JP:6502 -1.07% , the world's No. 2 maker of NAND flash memory chips for devices like digital music players, fell 1%.
Shares of Rakuten Inc. /zigman2/quotes/201861450/delayed JP:4755 +4.11% /zigman2/quotes/209008312/delayed RKUNF +3.98% , Japan's largest online shopping mall operator, were down as much as 4% after the company said it'll post a special loss on the sale of its credit-service unit. On Thursday, the Jasdaq-listed company threatened to sue a tabloid magazine over a report claiming the company's president was being investigated for insider trading.
Leading tire maker Bridgestone Corp. /zigman2/quotes/205589013/delayed JP:5108 -0.73% fell 1.4% after striking a four-month high Thursday.
Elsewhere across the region, shares listed in Australia fell 0.3%. Shanghai's Composite Index retreated 1.3% to rank as the lead declining regional market. South Korea's Kospi gained 0.3%. Malaysia's KLSE Composite advanced 0.3%.
Indonesia's Jakarta Composite index rose 0.9%, while Taiwan's Weighted Index ended higher 0.6%. In Mumbai, India's leading stock exchange, the Sensitive Index was up 0.7%.
Miles Remington, head of equity trading at BNP Paribas in Hong Kong, said market participants were sifting for value as the summer slowdown nears an end.
"There is a fair amount of money finding its way back into Taiwan after having being ignored for quite some time," said Miles Remington, head of equity trading at BNP Paribas in Hong Kong. "The trading seems very market specific rather than being across the board."