By Michael Kitchen, MarketWatch
LOS ANGELES (MarketWatch) — Asian stock markets traded mostly higher Friday, with Japanese blue chips swinging to gains in the afternoon session.
The rise for the major markets came as Hong Kong and Seoul were closed for holidays, curbing trading volumes in bourses that were open.
Japan’s Nikkei Stock Average /zigman2/quotes/210597971/delayed JP:NIK -3.34% closed 0.7% higher, undoing losses from the morning session and erasing Thursday’s 0.4% retreat, which had followed a major jump of 2.3% on Wednesday.
Losses for Wall Street overnight had helped dampen sentiment earlier in the day, as the S&P 500 /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX -3.35% finished down 0.5% after a Federal Reserve official tipped a pullback in the central bank’s easing programs could come as soon as this summer.
But offsetting the U.S. loss were domestic data showing Japan’s core machinery orders — seen as a leading indicator of capital investment — jumped 14.2% in March, well above forecasts.
Real-estate shares were a strong spot for the Tokyo market, as some major names rebounded from recent losses. Among them, Mitsui Fudosan Co. /zigman2/quotes/205394574/delayed JP:8801 -3.51% /zigman2/quotes/208297288/delayed MTSFF +8.74% climbed 2.4%, Mitsubishi Estate Co. /zigman2/quotes/208910776/delayed JP:8802 -3.78% /zigman2/quotes/208166463/delayed MITEF -0.08% added 3.4%, and Sumitomo Realty & Development Co. /zigman2/quotes/206628792/delayed JP:8830 -1.01% /zigman2/quotes/205763034/delayed SURDF +2.27% rallied to finish 4.2% higher.
Among individual movers, Tokyo Electric Power Co. /zigman2/quotes/202771076/delayed JP:9501 -1.61% /zigman2/quotes/204529331/delayed TKECF -1.73% , commonly known as Tepco, chalked up a 2.1% in choppy trade. Tepco shares have now tripled in value since the start of the year, though they remain well below their levels before the 2011 earthquake and tsunami caused a major disaster at the company’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Also ending higher, Hitachi Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/203839937/delayed JP:6501 -3.78% /zigman2/quotes/203416411/delayed HTHIF +2.28% added 3.2% to its share price after the conglomerate forecast earnings for the 2015-16 fiscal year that bested analyst expectations.
Shares of Renesas Electronics Corp. /zigman2/quotes/203872935/delayed JP:6723 -4.66% /zigman2/quotes/201351352/delayed RNECY -5.83% surged 15.9%. Late Thursday, Renesas said it was teaming with a Belgian research institute to develop communication technology featuring ultralow power consumption, according to Kyodo News.
On the downside in Japan, Sony Corp. /zigman2/quotes/201361720/delayed JP:6758 -2.81% /zigman2/quotes/208567357/composite SNE -3.05% dropped 1.7% after NPD Group data late Thursday showed April U.S. videogame-console sales plunging 42% from year-earlier levels as consumers awaited new devices from Sony and rivals Microsoft Corp. /zigman2/quotes/207732364/composite MSFT -4.31% and Nintendo Co. /zigman2/quotes/206371241/delayed NTDOF -3.42% . Shares of Nintendo finished 1.5% lower.
Some other tech majors saw weakness as well, with Pioneer Corp. falling 0.8%, Panasonic Corp. /zigman2/quotes/201785256/delayed JP:6752 -4.81% losing 0.7%, and Tokyo Electron Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/202883609/delayed JP:8035 -2.25% /zigman2/quotes/200298228/delayed TOELF +0.48% surrendering 2.5%, moving back near levels seen at the start of the week.
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Shanghai, Sydney improve
On the Shanghai Stock Exchange, shares broke from rangebound trade in the afternoon, with the Shanghai Composite Index /zigman2/quotes/206600939/delayed CN:000001 -1.25% higher by 1.2% late in the session after spending much of the day near the flat line.
Strength in the property majors helped support the market, with Poly Real Estate Group Co. /zigman2/quotes/201864015/delayed CN:600048 +1.13% trading 2.7% higher and Gemdale Corp. /zigman2/quotes/208026094/delayed CN:600383 +1.64% up 3.4% in late-session action. Similarly, top mainland Chinese developer China Vanke Co. also saw its shares gain 2.4% on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange.
The advance for real-estate came ahead of April home-price data, due out Saturday. Noting March’s 3.6% gain in home prices for the 70 top cities surveyed in the data, ING analysts said: “We think increased monetary accommodation in the beginning of the year ... kept home price inflation elevated.”
Also positive for the sector, some investors are expecting the Chinese government to loosen some of its restrictions on property sales by the end of the year, Dow Jones Newswires quoted a Guotai Junan Securities as saying.
Over in Australia, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 /zigman2/quotes/210598100/delayed AU:XJO -1.60% ended 0.4% higher, helped by strength in some major mining names.
Senior miners BHP Billiton Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/201448516/delayed AU:BHP -2.05% /zigman2/quotes/208108397/composite BHP -5.04% and Rio Tinto Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/200083756/delayed AU:RIO -1.74% /zigman2/quotes/202627887/composite RIO -6.21% added 1.9% and 1.1%, respectively, after a 0.9% advance for July copper futures overnight.
Uranium extractor Paladin Energy Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/203269866/delayed AU:PDN -2.35% /zigman2/quotes/202157125/delayed PALAF -14.29% rose 4.4%, while Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/202351558/delayed AU:FMG -0.64% /zigman2/quotes/204116626/delayed FSUMF -3.98% added 1.7%, though losses for gold futures helped drive shares of Newcrest Mining Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/203840223/delayed AU:NCM -3.58% /zigman2/quotes/206026738/delayed NCMGF -1.14% to close 2.3% lower.
“If commodity prices remain supported in the Asian trading session, Australian stocks should hold near current levels and halt recent weaknesses,” wrote Rivkin global analyst Tim Radford just ahead of the market open. The ASX 200 had ended Thursday with a 0.5% loss, after falling 0.6% on Wednesday.
Also in Sydney, shares of Virgin Australia Holdings Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/207744791/delayed AU:VAH -7.69% /zigman2/quotes/207088423/delayed VBHLF 0.00% jumped 10.5% higher after a 17% crash in the previous session on the back of a profit warning. Helping boost the airline operator, both UBS and J.P. Morgan raised their ratings on the shares to buy and overweight, respectively.
Likewise, retail major Wesfarmers Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/204567133/delayed AU:WES -3.58% /zigman2/quotes/201137979/delayed WFAFF +0.67% warned of “disappointing” results at its Target stores, with its shares losing 2.9%. Target Australia is unrelated to the U.S. firm Target Corp., though it uses the latter’s “bullseye” logo.
Meanwhile, some of the smaller Asian markets missed out on the gains seen in Japan, China and Australia, with Taiwan’s Taiex ending with a 0.3% loss, and New Zealand’s NZSX 50 falling 0.8%.