By V. Phani Kumar, Rosalind Mathieson and Leslie Shaffer
HONG KONG (MarketWatch) -- Asian share markets finished mostly higher Thursday after the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended above 10,000 overnight, with indexes in Hong Kong and Australia closing at their highest levels in more than a year.
Steelmakers across the region advanced after South Korea's Posco offered an upbeat outlook. Financial and technology stocks edged up on better-than-expected earnings reports from J.P. Morgan Chase and Intel, with some traders expecting markets to remain buoyant despite a slew of U.S. earnings reports and data on the slate for later Thursday.
"You've got a double whammy of economic data globally that's better than expected, plus the U.S. earnings reports beating expectations," said UBS Head of Institutional Sales George Kanaan. "I think as the equity market keeps going higher more people get sucked into the market because they're underweight equities."
Japan's Nikkei 225 Average climbed 1.8% to 10,238.65 and China's Shanghai Composite advanced 0.3% to 2,979.79, with South Korea's Kospi rising 0.6%.
Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index finished just short of the 22,000-point level, rising 0.5% to 21,999.08 - the index's best finish since August 2008 - though it rose above 22,250 during the session.
Benchmarks in Australia, New Zealand and Taiwan finished at their highest level in at least 12 months, with the S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.6% in Sydney, the NZX 50 added 0.2% in Wellington and the Taiex up 0.2% in Taipei. Singaporean and Indonesian shares were in contention for a similar feat in afternoon trading, with the Straits Times Index rising 0.2% while the JSX index gained 0.2% in Jakarta.
Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA -1.39% futures were flat in screen trade recently after the DJIA climbed 1.5% overnight to finish above 10,000.
Thailand shares got whipped amid ongoing rumors about the health of the country's King, even after the royal palace said Wednesday that King Bhumibol Adulyadej was in good health but must stay in hospital. The SET Index was recently down 6.1% amid heavy trading volumes. Among the big losers, Airports of Thailand tumbled 10.1%, with Bank of Ayudhya slumping 8.4% and Bangkok Bank /zigman2/quotes/203553428/delayed BKKLY -0.64% dropping 7.4%, while PTT Exploration & Production /zigman2/quotes/209685984/delayed PEXNY -0.24% losing 3.6%.
"The market is expecting the worst for sure, but it's technical as well," said Kenric Sighakowin, vice president at Royal Bank of Scotland in Bangkok, saying the losses were exacerbated by stop-loss calls getting triggered. "Rumors whether true or not, the damage has been done really and until His Majesty is seen leaving the hospital, the risk is to the downside."
Elsewhere, India's Sensex slipped 0.4% as the U.S. dollar's recent weakness hurt software exporters such as Infosys Technologies /zigman2/quotes/208929210/composite INFY -5.18% , while several other markets came off their early highs. In Mumbai afternoon trading, Infosys fell 2% and Tata Consultancy Services dropped 2.5%.
"There are some investors who still worry about valuations after the rapid gains and think expectations for strong third-quarter earnings are largely factored into current stock prices," said Min Sang-il at E*Trade Securities in Korea.
Steel shares were higher across Asia after Posco late Wednesday reported strong third quarter results and issued a rosy outlook for the fourth quarter. Posco /zigman2/quotes/209201002/composite PKX +0.25% itself jumped 3.7%, with peer Hyundai Steel rising 3.1% in Seoul. JFE Holdings /zigman2/quotes/204336633/delayed JP:5411 -3.19% gained 2.1% in Tokyo, Angang Steel /zigman2/quotes/207174324/delayed CN:000898 -3.38% /zigman2/quotes/209338869/delayed HK:347 -3.70% added 3.8% in Hong Kong and 2.5% in Shenzhen, and Tata Steel rose 0.6% in Mumbai afternoon trade.
Regional financial plays were tracking gains in their U.S. peers. In Hong Kong, heavyweight HSBC Holdings /zigman2/quotes/202687335/delayed HK:5 -2.30% gained 1.3%, Hana Financial Group jumped 3.6% in Seoul and Westpac Banking /zigman2/quotes/203084975/delayed AU:WBC -2.84% /zigman2/quotes/206661702/composite WBK -2.62% added 1.1% in Sydney.
But gold stocks pulled back after UBS downgraded its ratings on Newcrest Mining /zigman2/quotes/203840223/delayed AU:NCM -8.04% /zigman2/quotes/203286036/delayed NCMGY -12.45% and Lihir Gold to neutral, citing rising share prices and lower earnings forecasts. Lihir dropped 3.3% and Newcrest fell 1.3% in Sydney, with Zijin Mining Group /zigman2/quotes/204517000/delayed HK:2899 -4.37% /zigman2/quotes/209836076/delayed ZIJMF +4.09% falling 3.3% in Hong Kong and Zhongjin Gold /zigman2/quotes/207741711/delayed CN:600489 -5.37% fell 2.6% in Shanghai.
Japanese semiconductor maker Elpida Memory rose 2.9% after saying it expects to post an operating profit of 500 million yen ($5.6 million) for the July-September quarter, compared with a loss of 24.5 billion yen in the previous year.
In foreign-exchange trade, the U.S. currency was buying 89.63 yen, from around 89.25 yen late in New York. The euro was at 133.93 yen from 133.35 yen, and at $1.4936 from $1.4932.
"What you're seeing right now is not euro strength or yen strength but dollar weakness," said Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ chief FX analyst Osamu Takashima. "Behind this trend is the monetary easing and fiscal expansion being seen in the U.S."
The Australian dollar continued to advance, riding a wave of optimism on hopes for continued demand from China for raw materials, and on a yield basis after the Reserve Bank of Australia's recent interest rate hike. The currency was recently up at $0.9216, helped by RBA Governor Glenn Stevens's comment that the feared downturn in the economy had not materialized and that there were risks for Australia in keeping interest rates too low for too long.
Japanese government bond futures fell as equities gained, with the December lead futures contract down 0.13 at 139.05 points.
Spot gold dropped $2.50 from New York, to $1,060.20 a troy ounce. Barclays Capital analysts said the metal's rally had slowed since the first week of October, although it lacked meaningful bearish cues: "We are looking to buy dips against $1,035 for a move to $1,120." November crude-oil prices added 44 cents to $75.62 a barrel.