By Chao Deng
Stocks in Japan turned positive for the year Thursday, with the Japanese yen weakening further, to the benefit of the country’s auto makers and other exporters, while investors elsewhere in Asia focused on the prospect for further reforms in China.
The Nikkei Stock Average /zigman2/quotes/210597971/delayed JP:NIK -1.06% rose 1.3% to 16,374.14, after hitting its highest intraday level since Nov. 5, 2007. For the year, the index is now up 0.5%, having rallied since early August.
The gains came as the dollar hit its highest mark against the yen since early 2008. A higher dollar is good for Japanese companies that market their products abroad, as it enables them to cut prices as well as convert the cash into more yen when repatriating the profits back home. The dollar /zigman2/quotes/210561789/realtime/sampled USDJPY -0.3880% rose to as high as ¥109.36 during the day in Asia and was last at ¥109.26. It traded at ¥109.05 late Wednesday in New York.
Signs of further improvement in the U.S. helped support the dollar’s rally — data on Wednesday showed new homes sales jumped in August, marking the highest level of sales since May 2008.
Shares in auto-parts maker Denso Corp. /zigman2/quotes/201343434/delayed JP:6902 -1.40% , Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/203522406/delayed JP:7270 -2.54% and Toyota Motor Corp. /zigman2/quotes/200537742/composite TM -1.26% all finished higher.
In China, mixed views on the country’s reform measures sent the Hang Seng Index /zigman2/quotes/210598030/delayed HK:HSI -1.84% down 0.6% to 23,768.13 but the Shanghai Composite Index /zigman2/quotes/210598127/delayed CN:SHCOMP -1.95% up 0.1% to 2345.1.
Mainland stocks were up at their highest close in over 18 months on hopes for increased liquidity from regulators. The Wall Street Journal reported that Beijing may replace its reform-minded central bank governor, which could mean a more accommodative monetary policy to support a slowing economy. If the report is confirmed, the move could be positive for the market as increased liquidity would help lower funding costs for companies, said analysts.
Trading volume in Shanghai rose to 189.3 billion yuan ($30.8 billion) from Wednesday’s 185.7 billion yuan.
The picture was less rosy in Hong Kong. A possible People’s Bank of China replacement also raises uncertainty about the extent to which Beijing feels it can afford to remake its economy — the current central bank chief has pressed for interest-rate liberalization and other market reforms, but concerns are growing that the economy might not meet its annual 7.5% growth target are growing as the year progresses.
Stocks of banks trading in Hong Kong slipped, including those of China Construction Bank Corp. /zigman2/quotes/208058581/delayed CN:601939 -4.38% and Bank of Communications Co. /zigman2/quotes/207155262/delayed CN:601328 -2.87% .
Elsewhere in the region, Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 /zigman2/quotes/210598100/delayed AU:XJO -0.61% finished up 0.1% at 5,282.20, reflecting a strong finish overnight on Wall Street. But gains shrank after data showing that job vacancies in Australia fell 0.7% in the three months through August from the quarter before.
The New Zealand dollar /zigman2/quotes/210561726/realtime/sampled NZDUSD +0.0304% tumbled to its lowest level in more than a year, when the central bank governor reiterated exchange rate is “unjustified and unsustainable” and susceptible to a “significant downward adjustment.” In late Wellington trading, the Kiwi was at 79.88 U.S. cents compared with 80.76 U.S. cents late Wednesday — its lowest level since early September 2013.
Bradford Frischkorn and Rebecca Howard contributed to this article.