By Sarah Turner, MarketWatch
SYDNEY (MarketWatch) — Japanese and Hong Kong stocks rallied Friday, with the Nikkei Average supported by a drop in the yen and the Hang Seng Index helped by financials, in an otherwise range-bound session for Asia.
After gaining 6.4% over the last six sessions, the Nikkei Stock Average /zigman2/quotes/210597971/delayed JP:NIK -0.39% climbed another 2.6% Friday to close at a level last seen before the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008.
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index /zigman2/quotes/210598030/delayed HK:HSI -1.11% sat 1.6% in late afternoon trading, heading for a likely third gain in four sessions, while the Shanghai Composite Index /zigman2/quotes/206600939/delayed CN:000001 -0.06% was up 0.2% late, after moving in and out of negative territory throughout the day.
The rest of the region saw a relatively flat performance, with Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 /zigman2/quotes/210598100/delayed AU:XJO -0.33% finishing 0.3% higher, as the China trade data pulled the market off early losses, while South Korea’s Kospi /zigman2/quotes/210598069/delayed KR:180721 -1.49% closed 0.1% lower.
Asia markets have had a bumpy ride in recent sessions, with fresh government curbs on the Chinese property sector sending stocks tumbling at the start of the week.
Still, Friday saw some better news from China, with the country recording a surprise $15.3 billion trade surplus in February, confounding expectations the economy would swing to a trade deficit due to seasonal weakness from the weeklong Chinese Lunar New Year holiday last month.
February’s exports were 21.8% higher than a year earlier, when the Lunar New Year fell in January, while imports were 15.2% lower than the year-earlier month.
Dow Jones Newswires had projected exports to rise 5% and imports to fall 10%, while Reuters had exports increasing 10.1% and imports dropping 8.8%. Read more on Chinese trade data
“The improving trend in Chinese export growth adds to confidence that the global economy is improving,” said AMP Capital head of investment strategy Shane Oliver.
Stepping back from intraday moves, Oliver said that after recent big gains, shares are still vulnerable to a deeper correction than the slight wobble seen during the second half of February.
“However, any setbacks are likely to be mild, and the broad trend in share markets is likely to remain up,” he said.
Wall Street stocks rose Thursday, after a six-week low for jobless claims added to optimism over the U.S. employment picture ahead of key February nonfarm payrolls due out later Friday. Read: U.S. stocks climb as jobless claims dip and What to look for in the February jobs report
Ahead of the report, the dollar /zigman2/quotes/210561789/realtime/sampled USDJPY -0.2123% traded at 95.34 yen, up from ¥94.85 reached in late North American trading on Thursday and passing the ¥95 mark for the first time since August 2009. The yen’s fall accelerated after the Chinese trade data. Read: Why the dollar could rise on a good — or bad — payrolls report.
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The yen’s losses once again helped the fortunes of many Japanese exporter shares, as Mazda Motor Corp. /zigman2/quotes/204777714/delayed JP:7261 -0.11% /zigman2/quotes/206646681/delayed MZDAF +3.07% and Bridgestone Corp. /zigman2/quotes/205589013/delayed JP:5108 -0.73% /zigman2/quotes/204111038/delayed BRDCY -1.31% each closed 5.8% higher, while Alps Electric Co. /zigman2/quotes/206929613/delayed JP:6770 +0.33% /zigman2/quotes/208824004/delayed APELY -2.29% advanced 3.9%.
The yen’s moves also fed into optimism over Japan’s fight against deflation, which helped the financial sector move higher in Tokyo.